Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
The Westie Wing
"If, instead of individual bargaining, one can conceive of a collective agreement... it seems to me that the framers of the agreements would have to take, as the first and dominant factor, the cost of living as a civilised being.
"If A lets B have the use of his horses, on the terms that he give them fair and reasonable treatment, I have no doubt that it is B's duty to give them proper food and water, and such shelter and rest as they need." - Justice H.B. Higgins in his Harvester Judgement.
It's 98 years since Justice H. B. Higgins handed down his Harvester Judgement to the Arbitration Commission, guaranteeing a liveable minimum wage. The Howard Government in its 4th term is bent on the complete corruption of this essential part of Australian history through a jurisdictional horse-trading exercise before the centenary is out.
When Howard was Leader of the Opposition almost 20 years ago, he told the H.R. Nicholls Society:
"Mr Justice Higgins' Harvester Judgement of 1907 effectively determined that Australian industrial relations would be inflexible and centralised. According to Higgins, it would be better for an employer to go out of business than pay his employees less than the fixed rate..."
This spin is as ideologically twisted as it is inaccurate. If Howard has his way, workers in all areas of Australia and especially NSW, will be forced to work under a system of watered-down Awards and minimal entitlements.
Howard's hypocrisy is highlighted by his backing of bosses' unions, championing collective bargaining among small business unions and associations and his belief in centralised wage fixing and industrial relations.
Howard's right hand man, Peter Costello, is just as hypocritical in wanting gaol terms for CEOs guilty of collusion in tendering (but not industrial manslaughter).
That's all fine for the bosses but when it comes to protecting workers' entitlements against corporate collapse, such as Walter Construction Group's, they won't lift a finger to formulate a national scheme to prevent collapses in the first place.
As NSW and other State Governments grapple with the challenge of providing more public services with less revenue (mainly due to GST allocations), we have to protect against the temptation to cede the difficult policy areas to the Federal Government.
There may be merit in the theory of horse-trading in matters of jurisdiction but the fact is that NSW as the most populous state will get a raw deal almost every time. And it is absolutely essential that Industrial Relations not be traded-off like some commodity in a so-called "free trade" negotiation.
Recent newspaper articles revealed that in Victoria, where the Federal system enjoys a monopoly, the number of working days lost is up to 70 per cent greater than under the NSW system.
This system allows a fair go for employers as well as workers and that in a recent review of the Act, not one business group suggested abolition of the State industrial relations system.
Howard continues to blackmail the states in many areas, not just industrial relations. Recently, threats to withhold funding on Austlink roads unless AWAs are implemented were made to the states under the guise of National Competition Policy.
This is the context in which the Carr-Refshauge Government confronts the challenges of delivering for NSW with annual funding for new infrastructure reaching $7.5 Billion, for example.
The recent resignation of Michael Egan as Treasurer resulted in a reshuffle of Ministerial roles. Andrew Refshauge has been Deputy Premier since Labor came to power in 1995 and it is fitting that he is the new Treasurer. He was replaced as Minister for Education by Carmel Tebbutt and John Watkins is the new Transport Minister.
Carl Scully is the new Police Minister and Michael Costa takes over Roads, Economic Reform and Ports. Reba Meagher is the new Minister for Community Services while Joseph Tripodi is the new face in the Ministry, with responsibility for Housing.
These Ministers and the full Labor Caucus will have to come to terms with many existing and arising issues in the coming year.
Insurance and negligence laws in various industries continue to present a challenge to the Government. The recent case High Court decision in favour of Mr Swain highlights major flaws in the patchwork of legislation covering various forms of no-fault and common law negligence compensation in this state.
The specific plight of the seriously injured, especially after the implementation of the Civil Liability Act 2002, has been further highlighted by this decision in the Swain case to reinstate the jury verdict of $3.75 million damages to the quadriplegic Mr Swain.
Other insurance such as home warranty insurance and workers compensation are still problematic areas and it is up to a Labor government to fix them. As I've said before, a government player in the insurance market would force down prices and improve coverage.
I'm currently on a Parliamentary Committee with a new inquiry into personal injury compensation legislation. The inquiry covers all forms of personal injury and the outcome of compensation claims, their impacts on the community and on premiums and coverage.
This inquiry is bound to turn up some interesting ideas and evidence, which I will continue to publicise. See the link to the Inquiry website below.
Mental health services continue to be a concern. The Mental Health Workers Alliance was launched in Parliament House in November and will promote a saner approach to mental health issues by government services. This problem is much bigger and broader than acknowledged and requires serious attention to ensure future services are appropriate.
Carers are also in need of attention--I was pleased to take delivery of a petition to Government from workers employed in the Homecare Service of NSW who are members of the LHMU. The workers want an equal allowance for using their car to that received by Homecare Administrative staff.
In the regions, long-term problems with no easy solutions continue to bite. Water usage, salinity, locust plagues, regional infrastructure and unemployment are all important and require more attention from Federal and State Governments.
The struggle to protect and improve the lives workers and their families hasn't changed. The new and vital chapter in this struggle has high stakes and plenty to fight for. I know the labour movement is up to the challenge.
- The first Unions NSW forum with NSW Labor MPs on Wednesday 24th February will address the Federal Industrial Relations attack and plan ways to defend essential workers' rights such as right of entry for workers' representatives.
- The NSW Government submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Workplace Relations (Right of Entry) Bill 2004 sets reasons to reject the bill very clearly:
o There has been no consultation with state governments
o There is no policy case for change
o There is no legal case for change
o The bill seeks to impose a centralised, 'one size fits all' approach on employers and unions
o The bill aims to replace simple, effective and non-controversial NSW legislation
o The bill would create contradictions with existing federal and state legislation
o The bill breaches Australia's international obligations
Read the full NSW Government submission on the Senate Inquiry website: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/wr_rightentry/index.htm
- The Inquiry into Personal Injury Compensation Legislation by General Purpose Committee 1 is open to submissions until 11 March. For more information, go to http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees and use the Inquiries box.
For my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at http://www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected].
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