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May 2004   

Interview: Machine Man
It�s regarded as the most powerful job in the Party, but new NSW ALP general secretary Mark Arbib wants to build a bridge with the union movement.

Unions: Testing Times
Unions are not opposed to drug and alcohol testing, but they do want to see real safety issues addressed, writes Phil Doyle.

Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
FreeSpirit forked out a motza for a whiz bang internet presence then disappeared right off the radar � once it was nominated as our Bad Boss for May.

Unions: Badge of Honour
Surry Hills is home to one of the world�s finest displays of union badges thanks to Bill "The Bear" Pirie and a supporting cast headed by Joe Strummer, Mark Knopfler, George Benson, Annie Lennox and other seriously big noises.

National Focus: Noel's World
Shrill bosses bleat over minimum wage rise, union spinmeisters congregate in Melbourne and Tassie�s nurses take the baton from their mob in Victoria reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Economics: Safe Refuge
A humanitarian approach to refugees and an economically rational one?? I�d like to see that. Frank Stilwell did, when he went to Young in NSW to look into the impact of the Afghan refugees on temporary protection visas who came to work for the local abattoir

International: Global Abuse
Amnesty International have joined the chorus against the violation of trade union rights in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

History: The Honeypot
To the Honeypot come those individuals anxious to get their hands on instant wealth. So it was in the early days of Broken Hill, wrties Grace Hawes in this homage to the mining town.

Review: Death And The Barbarians
This new take on coming of age films focuses on the coming of death and the dignity and maturity it can inspire among those touched by it - though not always easily in the overcrowded Canadian public health system, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Resident Bard David Peetz uncovers some of the unfolding mysteries of talk back radio.


The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 1
Dr David McKnight, from the University of Technology, Sydney presents a new frame for looking at the competing ideas within Social Democracy.

The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 2
David McKnight concludes the paper he presented to the �Rethinking Social Democracy� conference, in London, April 15-17, 2004.

Out On A Limb
Phil Doyle becomes the first Australian journalist to state that the Olympics will be called off.

The Westie Wing
In the latest episode, Ian West explores what Disraeli called "Lies, damn lies and statistics".

Message from America
Searing snapshots from a landscape of uncertainty have plunged the Bush Administration into deeper crisis, writes WorkingForChange's Bill Berkowitz.


The Mouse That Roars
A number of campaigns this week show how web campaigning is reaching a level of sophistication that is transforming it from a gee-whiz fad to a potent industrial tool.


 Casual Affair Costs Family

 Dob a Driver Strikes Out

 Crash LAME�s Smoking Gun

 Axe To Fall On Skippy

 Internet Replaces Crayons

 Young Lives Crushed

 Feds Move Goal Posts

 Telstra Baulks at Two Percent

 Crane Death Brings Fine

 Worker Breaks Unwritten Law

 Private Nurses Short Changed

 RailCorp Wrecks Weekend

 Thunderbirds Are Stop

 Activists What�s On!

 Justice For Victims Denied
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The Westie Wing

In the latest episode, Ian West explores what Disraeli called "Lies, damn lies and statistics".


When it comes to insurance, it's a fair bet that any figures produced will be rubbery.

This is especially the case in relation to so-called insurance cost "blowouts" in workers' compensation and other areas such as public liability, home warranty and car insurance.

There was an interesting article by Bob Officer in the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday 4th of May. Bob is an emeritus professor at Melbourne University and has been on the board of the Victorian Workcover authority for nearly 10 years.

Take the issue of the assets and liabilities ratio of Workcover schemes, which allows a balance of income and expenditure to cater for workers' compensation claims. The tricky part is that the assets are current whereas most of the liabilities are theoretical projected estimates, creating statistics that are open to all sorts of interpretation.

Officer makes the point about the viability of Workcover schemes that many in the union movement have argued for years:

"Arguments for privatisation of such schemes assume that a clear contract or property right can be given to the private operators. Changing community standards of what is a reasonable level of compensation lead governments to change the statutory claims payments.

"Losses occur when changes in claims payments are inconsistent with premiums collected to compensate future claims. This ultimately leads to insolvency in competitive market schemes. I suspect this was the reason for the government taking over workers' compensation insurance in the 1980s."

This is precisely the case, but it is a point too easily forgotten by governments amongst the fog of lies, damn lies and statistics manipulated by the insurance industry.

It is time the NSW Government made a stand in the insurance market and stopped providing emergency insurance when the private market refuses.

A much more sensible and probably cheaper scheme would be to intervene to prevent the strike of capital and pricing collusion in the insurance industry by re-introducing a state-owned insurance company, like the GIO used to be.

At the moment, insurers cannot deliver adequate and affordable cover in many areas. The New South Wales Government has been picking up the pieces of the insurance market for years.

Most recently in New South Wales, the Government established Community Cover, an assistance scheme for not-for-profit organisations and charities to purchase insurance through the NSW Council of Social Services. This became necessary because the insurers have increased premiums by up to 1000% in recent years due to a lack of competition in the private market.

The State Government continues to provide insurance where the private market fails and the insurance companies are no worse off. A Government insurer would provide decent competition to the insurance companies and allow for lower premiums and better cover.

The framework of a government insurer still exists in the form of the NSW Treasury Managed Fund, which is the self-insurance scheme for State Government Agencies, covering Workers Compensation, property, public liability and motor vehicle insurance.

This fund is working well, in surplus and is expected to remain fully funded in the future. The Treasury Managed Fund may end up covering the estimated $800 million shortfall in the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation set up by James Hardie to cover Dust Diseases claims in relation to workers exposed to asbestos.

It's reminiscent of when NSW WorkCover was established in 1987, the Unsworth Government underwrote the shortfall accumulated by private insurers in the Workers Compensation scheme after significant changes to the system.

More recently, when the home warranty insurance system collapsed with HIH, the insurers fled like rats off a sinking ship and again the Government was left to pick up the pieces.

The Insurance Australia Group recently entered the home warranty insurance market and immediately the insurer with over 80% market share, Promina, cut the cost of insurance by up to 30%. There are still only a few insurers in the market and the lack of competition means premiums are exorbitant.

It has got to the point where the NSW Opposition is attempting to outmanoeuvre Labor by drafting legislation to set up a government scheme to replace the private system!

These examples of recurrent corporate welfare and Government insurance by another name clearly show that more radical solutions have to be considered, so that the best deal for the taxpayer can be found.

The lies have to be silenced and the true statistics heard.

For more information on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to

I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected]


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