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March 2005   

Interview: Dot.Com
Evan Thornley was a labour activist. Then he rode the tech wave. Now he's home with new ideas on how Labor can win the economic debate.

Workplace: Dirt Cheap
In her new book, Elizabeth Wynhausen learns how hard it is to live on the minimum wage.

Industrial: Daddy Doesnít Live With Us Anymore
Andreia Viegasí tells the story of the loss her young family has felt since her husband was killed at work, and the need for justice for families who fall victim to industrial manslaughter.

Economics: Who's Afraid of the BCA?
Big Business's agenda for Australia has gone from loopy to mainstream at the speed of light, writes Neale Towart

International: From the Wreckage
Working people across Iraq are struggling to build their own independent unions Ė and are successfully organising industrial action on the vital oil fields as well as in hotels, transport outlets and factories, Writes Andrew Casey

Politics: Infrastructure Blues
With much attention given belatedly to the shortage of infrastructure, little attention has been given to the structure of infrastructure, writes Evan Jones

History: Meat and Three Veg
A new book recounts the impact of the Depression on women workers, writes Neale Towart,

Savings: Super Seduction
Sharks are circling your super. From July 1, banks and financial planners will have access to the nesteggs of an extra four million workers, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Popping the 'E-Word'
Federal shadow treasurer Wayne Swan unveils Labor's new economic doctrine.

Poetry: To Know Somebody
This week saw an appointment to the ABC Board that was even more breathtaking than that of Liberal Party figure Michael Kroger. Resident Bard David Peetz celebrates the occasion with a reworking of an old Bee Gees hit.

Review: Off the Rails
A new play on the impact of rail privatisation in Britain has a poignant message for Sydney commuters, writes Alex Mitchell


The Soapbox
The Big Picture
Think about this: It takes 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy a plasma TV, writes Doug Cameron.

The Locker Room
Reducto Ad Absurdo
Phil Doyle offers advice for the lovelorn, and finds that things are getting smaller

New Matilda
Work is In
The rise and fall of the working hours debate in france is relevent to Australian workers, writes Daniel Donahoo and Tim Martyn

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP surveys the upcoming conservative centralist collective attack.

Postcard from Harvard
Australian union officials making the annual pilgrimage to the Harvard Trade Union Program learnt that, at least, they are not alone, says Natalie Bradbury.


Thatís Our Team
Hereís a test. Hands up all those who watched the news last night. Who can remember the weather forecast for tomorrow? What about the forecast in Perth?


 Rev Kev: Innocent Shall Be Guilty

 Itís Official - Taskforce "Hopeless"

 Hollywood For Tropfest Evictees

 Miner Problem for Feds

 Students Driven to Sleep

 Brogden Dances On Graves

 Let Them Drink Beer

 Traffic Fines Parked

 The Airline That Flew a Kite

 Hundreds Resist Porridge

 Experts Back Better Childcare Pay

 Mushroom Mums Win

 Rotten Fruit Exposed

 Workers Sue Rumsfeld

 Activistís Whatís On

 Stay Terra Firma on Tax
 Janetís Job No Victory
 Royal Finger Lickers
 Will $20 Restore Carr?
 Two Ideas
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The Soapbox

The Big Picture

Think about this: It takes 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy a plasma TV, writes Doug Cameron.

Australia has been led down the garden path. For too long we have been content to be the world's farm and quarry. Despite the highest export prices in a generation we have just recorded the highest current account deficit in our history.

Our politicians seem content for us to dig up rocks, transport them around the world where they are turned into complex manufactured goods, and then buy them back with money borrowed from overseas. The result is that we now owe the world nearly $21 000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. In 2003 we had to export 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy one plasma television.

Why do our leaders let this happen?

It's because they don't realise that manufacturing matters. We have a massive deficit in manufactured goods and it is getting worse under this government. For every dollar of manufactured good we make here, we buy another $2.55 from overseas. The government may claim that this deficit is because we're importing machinery so we can make more here. That's wrong. Our imports of consumer goods has risen twice as fast as our imports of capital goods (goods to make other goods).

The government seems to think that the high prices were getting for our farm and mineral exports are going to last forever. What happens when prices fall? Which they will eventually do as countries like India start to export more or god forbid the Chinese economy slows down. We have no alternate export base. Building more infrastructure is important but it won't solve the problem by itself. You can have a thousand ports ready to export coal but it won't matter if no one wants to buy the coal or if the price is less than it costs to dig it up and ship it.

We have put all our eggs in one basket. Instead of spending $66 billion to buy an election, pushing up interest rates in the process, John Howard should have been looking at our long term needs. Investing in skills and supporting our manufacturing sector. We are even importing Chinese welders, when we have 135 000 young Australians dropping out of apprenticeships each year. This government is more interested in finding someone to blame than finding solutions.

Manufacturing export jobs earn 40% more than the average wage. We should have been investing in these jobs. Instead we have Peter Costello running around blaming interest rate rises on workers and trying to cut their wages.

Make no mistake, we are in 'banana republic' land. If we are to secure our future and provide jobs for our children we must fix the current account problem. The solution isn't cutting wages, it isn't even building more infrastructure, it's building an innovative, export orientated manufacturing sector. Without that we'll just be a crumbling quarry, a drought plagued farm and a place that was once nice to visit.

Doug Cameron is the national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union


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