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Year End 2004   

Interview: The King of Comedy
John Robertson looks back on a year when his comic genius was finally realised.

Unions: Ten Simple Rules
Accepted wisdom has unions all but retired as serious players in the Australian game. A glance through the major industrial stories of 2004, however, suggests improved footwork, and a commitment to boxing clever, might herald a comeback, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Rampant Indivdualism
CFMEU National Secretary John Sutton gives his take on a year when the political debate took a turn to the Right.

International: Global Struggle
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks back on a year when the struggles for labour increasingly crossed international lines.

Economics: Cashing in the Year
Look back in sorrow or look back in anger? By any standards 2004 has been a hell of a year, writes Frank Stilwell.

History: Grass Roots
Worker solidarity in Australia in the first century of invasion can give us inspiration and clues for our upcoming battles, writes Neale Towart.

Review: Cultural Realities
In 2004 popular culture shifted from reality television to reality movies, and swapped last year's light-weight subject matter for the slightly more substantial, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Y-U-C-K
Workers Online resident bard David Peetz takes inspiration from The Village People for his latest prose.


The Crystal Ball
Workers Online consults a raft of leading psychics to find out what readers can look forward to in 2005.

The Soapbox
Scrooge Was Right
Christmas has been cancelled this year, writes our US correspondent Brooklyn Phil.

The Locker Room
The Workers Online Sports Awards
Continuing a tradition that dates back to the Twentieth Century, Phil Doyle dishes out the gongs for all things great and small in the world of sport during 2004.

The Westie Wing
Our favoutrite MP looks for a positive spin on the year at NSW Parliament


Beyond The Law
Despite the all-engulfing gloom emenating from our political wing right now, 2004 comes to an end on a strangely upbeat note for the trade union movement.


 Unions Make Hardie Pay

 Hadgkiss Gives Mourners Grief

 Mum Gets "Hopson’s" Choice

 AWAs Crash on Broken Hill

 No Fun in the Sack

 Tax Office Draws Blood

 Origin Prop a Union Hit

 Good Guy Wears Black

 Security Crisis at Sydney Airport

 Biscuit Bosses Crumble

 Ardmona Urged to Can Racism

 Bomber Predicts Big Bang

 Stolen Wages Cut

 Tomorrow the World…

 Bosses Sack WorkCover

 Activists What's On!

 Costa’s Hike Unfare
 Temporary Arrangements
 The Price Of Tea In China
 Cry For Me, Argentina
 Ho Bloody Ho
 Right Is Wrong
 Business As Usual
 All In The Family
 Swing Left Wishful Thinking
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The Westie Wing

Our favoutrite MP looks for a positive spin on the year at NSW Parliament

History just keeps repeating itself. This year has shown that the labour movement's struggles and challenges recur but the ways of responding to them need to be constantly upgraded if we hope to stay in the game.

A line in history can be drawn from the international corporate abuses of power of the first multi-national--the East India Company, which was so well documented in Adam Smith's 1776 book "Wealth of Nations", to the manipulation of the corporate veil by James Hardie Industries in 2004.

Where nation states are able to cling to a semblance of sovereignty over their economic, moral and fiscal development, the challenge is to gain community/government control of the man-made marketplace to ensure that the community is the master and not the servant. That's assuming you elect a government that cares.

The new fiscal targets announced by Treasurer Michael Egan this December I think are the right ones. Now that the general government debt has been paid off, the Government's objective will be to get total general government net financial liabilities down to 5% of Gross State Product.

Our annual funding of new infrastructure has reached $7.5 billion a year and recurrent spending has outstripped inflation.

The 3 measures of reporting the Budget net financial result each year will be the same that most other States use: the Net Cash Result, the Net Borrowing Result and the Net Operating Result.

If this system had been used to measure the health of the Workers' Compensation scheme in 2001, I am confident that the good health of the scheme's finances would have been highlighted and we may have averted the tragic changes that were imposed, which continue to severely under-compensate injured workers in NSW.

Then again, we are probably a lot more cynical since HIH and James Hardie's actuaries exposed how "flexible" the figures can be. The most important thing is that the dollars that the figures represent are used properly and responsibly.

The Government in its third term has established key policy areas in which the state's future viability lie. This year it has continued to work on the great challenges ahead that are mainly caused by increases in population.

The Metropolitan Strategy is a $30 Billion dollar program to manage sustainable growth and change in the Greater Metropolitan Region over four years. It encompasses transport, housing, planning, natural resources, energy, hospital and school development and economic growth in one strategy rather than many separate strategies.

Recently under this plan, the Premier announced that 150,000 new homes will be built in north-west and south-west Sydney to accommodate the population growth of 1,000 people each week. This plan will administer housing development to ensure it is sustainable and that developers contribute towards 75% of infrastructure costs.

This is another example of how the government can face challenges by acting to represent the public in the operations of the private sector. "Civilising capitalism" it used to be called--really it's how a mixed economy should operate and again highlights how important it is to elect Labor Governments with the will to be interventionist.

The NSW Carr-Refshauge government at least has a vision and is willing to be somewhat interventionist, unlike the NSW Opposition. The most difficult problems we face as a government relate to infrastructure or complex social issues requiring many years of hard work and dedication.

Nobody in their right mind believes there's an easy solution to the problems in Redfern/Waterloo, for example. People in need and disadvantage will always starve waiting for the benefits of the marketplace to "trickle down". Only Governments can intervene to help in these situations.

In February, a riot broke out in Redfern after a youth died in a street accident. Police procedures, community programs, housing, drug problems and racial issues all became subject of a parliamentary inquiry by the Social Issues Committee, of which I am a member.

The Government has recently legislated to improve the situation: an independent Redfern-Waterloo Authority to promote social and economic development in the area, with sweeping powers over planning and infrastructure in the area. The area's Partnership Project run by the Premier's office will continue to oversee health, safety and crime prevention issues.

One can only hope that the good intentions will bear fruit as quickly as possible.

The trains have been a problem all year--maintenance, carriages, timetables, rosters, driver numbers etc. And amongst those difficulties was a pay dispute that has seen both the Government and workers being bashed by tabloid media.

There is no denying that rail commuters have been turned off by the unreliability of train services. Premier Bob Carr admitted that Labor would struggle if an election were held this year.

What is important is that the pay case and industrial issues are being worked out. And there's a new timetable on the cards as well as the $1 Billion Rail Clearways program to untangle the CityRail network. So despite the difficulties, the situation is being grappled with.

James Hardie's actions highlighted the necessity of a government referee to ameliorate market excess and abuse of the corporate law. The State Government has acted honourably in this matter in attempting to bring justice to asbestos disease sufferers.

The Government established the independent Jackson Inquiry into Hardie's liability fund and found that its future workers' comp liabilities were substantially underfunded. The company has resisted pressure from the Government, the ACTU and Unions NSW to act decently in the situation and provide adequate funds.

Otherwise the company, though found responsible for causing injury to thousands of people associated with its products over the years, would be getting away with murder.

Fortunately, a deal seems likely to secure a flow of compensation funds into the future, which will avoid the State government having to use taxpayer dollars to cover the medical and other costs of Hardie's negligence.

The Hardies case has been an example of the importance of the trade union movement running a public interest case. Another big issue was prison sentences for causing workplace death.

The Government will introduce legislation in early 2005 to further allow for prison sentences for first offences of gross negligence causing death in the workplace. The proposed legislation will strengthen the OHS Act and allow better redress for workers than in the complexity of the criminal code.

In early December, an important step forward was taken in the enforcement of ethical practices in the textile, footwear and clothing industry. The Fair Trading Minister implemented the Mandatory Code of Conduct for the industry, which will increase standards through imposing penalties for non-compliance.

The TCFUA fought hard to have this Code implemented, as it was included in legislative changes made in 2001. The TCFUA lobbied Labor MPs at one of the many briefings by Unions NSW this year.

These briefings, which have established a dialogue between Labor MPs and affiliates of Unions NSW, have assisted in progressing topics such as the Government cleaning and train drivers' disputes, the teachers' pay case, workplace surveillance, redundancies in the power industry and James Hardie. The briefings will continue next year.

I congratulate Unions NSW for their efforts to reinvigorate their approach to public relations in a hostile political environment--especially at the federal level. A key part of effective PR is how young people identify what you stand for and the name change to "Unions NSW" is applauded.

Another essential PR exercise is teaching young people about unions. That is what UnionTeach, the Union NSW internet teaching resource to cater for the high school syllabus, is about and it needs ongoing attention to realise its full potential.

2005 promises more of the same challenges in different guises, especially on the federal front. I look to forward to continuing the struggle with you next year.

Have a safe and happy festive season.

Ian West


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