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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 Westie Wing

Our favourite MP surveys the upcoming conservative centralist collective attack.

From July 2005 the collective of the Howard/Costello Government and Organised Capital look forward to absolute power through the Senate and an attack on the States. The same people who cynically spout freedom of choice and individualism for the masses act as a collective when it suits. Ian West surveys the upcoming conservative centralist collective attack.

The Howard/Costello Government don't have a clue how to respond to the latest economic figures. They need a diversion. So last week the faceless Captains of Industry re-emerged like spiders from under a rock. One of the nation's largest and truly ugly collectives - the Business Council of Australia (BCA) - stepped into the breach.

We didn't hear much from the BCA during the 2004 election campaign. That was a conscious decision on the part of the Conservatives. The BCA represents 100 of Australia's most powerful companies. Last week Hugh Morgan, the BCA Chairman, delivered a message to Howard/Costello that was very unsubtle, "We have for the first time in 30 years a Government that isn't compromised through lack of control of the Senate and expectations of moving forward the reform agenda are, quite naturally, high. There's a measured sense of urgency, given that it's not long before you enter another election round."

Yes that's Hugh Morgan, a Founding member of the HR Nicholls Society, the same guy who described the original living wage judgement as leading Australian society down to "catastrophic collision with rural bankruptcy, sudden South American style devaluations, international insolvency and grave social dislocation."

So it looks increasingly likely we're going to get the unedited version of what Howard, Costello and the Bosses' Collective want. There's no way organised labour can negotiate a civilised outcome on the terms the collectivist centralist conservatives put forward. The insatiable demand of the Captains of Industry, of the Corporations, is uncompromising. There's no alternative but for organised labour to unite and resist.

The power grab is also part of a deliberate co-ordinated Conservative tactic to contaminate the focus on their mishandling of the economy. Instead of allowing the focus to remain on their economic mismanagement of Australia, the Howard/Costello and the Bosses' Collective want people to think the Labor State Governments have let everyone down.

And that's how they can make absolute power seem reasonable. The Senate power grab has a twofold purpose - firstly they can get some of their ugliest reforms through unchecked; and secondly they can blame the States for their shortcomings.

From 9th August 2005, when the Senate sits, they intend to:

finish the carve up of our industrial system built up over more than 100 years and rip into workers

flog our national communications and our national health care system

eliminate progressive taxes and place further conditions on tied grants to the States under the guise of National Competition Policy and tell NSW and other States how we're supposed to spend our money

minimise welfare and social service spending

privatise infrastructure and outsource infrastructure spending

further divide society and dismantle what's left of our social institutions

I don't remember seeing any of that on the menu in October 2004. If my memory serves me correctly it was about trust, the economy, interest rates, and national security. Let's have a look at was on the 2004 menu and what's being served up in 2005.

2004 - "Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?"

2005 - 0.25% interest rate rise and an $800 million windfall to the banks - mortgages represent the largest proportion of household debt for NSW. In NSW, 850,000 families and individuals have a mortgage. NSW families with a $300,000 mortgage will now be forced to pay on average an extra $48 a month. There are also almost 400,000 small businesses in NSW that will be hit. Businesses with borrowings of $500,000 will pay an additional $1,250 a year.

2004 - "Who do you trust to manage the economy?"

2005 - Current account deficit has grown to more than 7% of the economy for the first time since the 1950s. Foreign debt is spiralling to pay for consumers' hunger for imports - foreign debt has grown by $83.4 billion to $691 billion, or a record 51% of our Gross Domestic Product - more than 2 _ times the level at March 1996. Banana anyone? Structural flaws, labour and skills shortages and low infrastructure spending are all coming home to roost.

2004 - "Who do trust to keep private health premiums low?"

2005 - Health premiums have increased 33% in the last 4 years - up 8% just last week. There are nine (9) million Australians with Private Health Insurance. There were 4,000 complaints about private health insurance issues lodged with the Health Insurance Ombudsman in 2004, which you can visit at

2004 - "What the State Governments do with the GST revenue is up to them!"

2005 - "There is now no excuse for the state governments not to abolish those taxes outlined for abolition in 1999," says Peter Costello now. But NSW has already gotten rid of the ones we said we would. And what Costello won't tell us is that NSW is now $700 million a year worse-off as a result of the GST. NSW taxpayers pay $13 billion a year in GST. The Federal Government only gives back $10 billion a year. Every cent of GST replaces old-State taxes - it's untied money, to be used on essential services in NSW. To put it in perspective, the NSW Government spends $10 billion each year on Health alone. We then need to find another $28 billion to fund state services - for example another $9.3 billion on Education; $2 billion on Police; $7.5 billion on infrastructure. Costello should get his own budget in order - eg Tumbi Creek, Beaudesert Railway - before he starts telling the States how to spend the money.

The Conservative Doublespeak will intensify over the next 12 months. It will be a base appeal to personal greed and opportunity. More and more people will be made to feel like they've only got themselves - to rely on or blame. It's vital we don't fall into the Conservatives' trap of demonising each other for the situations we are facing.

We do know from our recent history that the next few years will be a continuation of the same economic rationalism that has left Australians with their highest ever level of personal debt, record corporate profits, lower public and corporate accountability, crumbling social infrastructure and a more insecure public.

And we know the Howard/Costello tax system encourages personal spending at the expense of collective community building. There's no trickle down when you cut property and business transaction taxes. The Howard/Costello flat tax system means as a collective we make bad choices about how money is spent. We lose the ability to build the nation.

So people's daily struggle with problems and challenges are about to get a whole lot harder. The Conservatives say Federal ALP has been standing in the way of reforms for the past nearly 10 years - now that's changed and it's the States that stand in the way. When you're a Conservative, there's always someone or something else to blame for the problems you've created. Don't be fooled!

And when the Conservative Collective say the ALP acts in partnership with Unions, remember our relationship is something to be proud of. Their relationship is one they pretend doesn't exist. The pendulum has swung further to the right and the "reforms" are taking shape. We're going to have to stick together to make it through the dark days ahead.

As we know, the Federal Centralists want to take IR off the States and deliver the lowest common denominator to their Corporate bed partners. NSW and other States have vowed to fight right through to the High Court. Unions will survive and remember the political cycle will turn eventually.

Howard/Costello and the Captains of Industry have a lot to gain from demonising Employee Unions as the cause of all ills. But the Conservatives have had control of the levers for nearly 10 years - if something is wrong it's their shortcoming.

I'll be continuing to highlight the Federal Government's relationship with their preferred Bosses Unions. And I'm more than happy to keep receiving your stories, and highlighting in the State Parliament what the Conservative Centralist attack actually means for working people and their families.

I believe the Federal ALP and the NSW Labor Caucus is becoming more attuned to the industrial wing's concerns. After all, the Union movement is at the coalface of the Howard/Costello attack on our social fabric. This is a full assault by the Conservatives and I think everyone sees the need to band together. After all, the Conservatives band together.

It's important we don't fall for the Conservatives diversionary tactics by viewing issues through the Conservatives' divide and conquer prism. Remember we've got nearly three years to win the argument. We're going to get a lot of examples of the Conservative's damage to our society in the meantime.

I'd really encourage you to write to, email or phone MPs. Tell MPs about your situation. Educate them. Enlist their support for your issue. Ask them what they can do to help you.

Email me your story. Leave me a contact (my contact details are below).

For my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at

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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