The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
September 2005   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Polar Eclipse
Academic David McKnight challenges some sacred cows in his new book "Beyond Left and Right".

Industrial: Wrong Turn
Radical labour reform is on the horizon but some workers, like Sydney bus driver Yvonne Carson, have seen it all before, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Star Support
It wasn't just families who backed workers' rights at The Last Weekend, but a bunch of musicians who set the tone, writes Chrissy Layton.

Workplace: Checked Out
Glenda Kwek asks you to consider the plight of the retail worker, and shares some of her experiences

Economics: Sold Out
The Future Fund and industrial relations reform are favourite projects of the PM and the Treasurer. Both are speculations on the future and the only guarantee with them is that you will be worse off, writes Neale Towart.

Politics: Green Banned
The impact of new building industry laws wonít be confined to one industry, writes CFMEU national secretary John Sutton.

History: Potted History
Lithgow is a place with a proud history as a union town. The origins of broader community solidarity lie in the early industrial development of the town and the development of unions. The Lithgow Pottery dispute of 1890 was a key event.

International: Curtain Call
The curtains have opened for East Timorís young theatre performers, thanks to a Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA project.

Review: Little Fish
At last! An Aussie film with substance, suspense and a serious dose of reality, writes Lucy Muirhead

Poetry: Slug A Worker
In a shock development, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, gave a ringing endorsement to the poetry pages of Workers Online, writes resident bard David Peetz.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Families First
New Senator Stephen Fielding turned a few heads with his Maiden Speech to Parliament.

The Locker Room
The New World Order
Phil Doyle declares himself unavailable for the fifth and deciding test.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, reports from the NSW Government's Safety Summit

Postcard
On The Bus
A bright orange bus travelling the state has become the focus of the campaign against federal IR changes. Nathan Brown was on board.

E D I T O R I A L

Middle Australia
The Prime Minister rarely responds directly to criticism, so when he rushed out a media release rebutting an ACIRRT analysis of wages data this week, it was clear that they had a hit a raw nerve.

N E W S

 Trucks Run Down Mums

 Boom! Biff! Itís Howard Unplugged

 Fun Guy Spreads Fertiliser

 Doors Close on Battered Mums

 Bing Lee Peddles Rubbish

 Bless This Bus

 High Court: Ads Do Kremlin Proud

 Families Water Win

 Tesltra Cuts Get Poor Reception

 Vegetable Campaign Sprouts

 Check Work/Family Balance Here

 Tim Wins For Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA

 Activists Whatís On!

L E T T E R S
 Care Confusion
WHAT YOU CAN DO
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Bosswatch
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation


Labor for Refugees

BossWatch



The Soapbox

Families First


New Senator Stephen Fielding turned a few heads with his Maiden Speech to Parliament.

*******

We are also told lifelong employment is a thing of the past, and a permanent full-time job is a luxury. We all know the saying, 'We can't turn back the clock.' But does that assume we never make mistakes and that all progress is good? Why can't progress be subjected to the same reality test as anything else? History does matter. We need to keep the best of the past and, if needs be, restore it when we go wrong. Take the eight-hour day as an example. One hundred and fifty years ago our forebears fought for the idea of eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours leisure. It was not just about shorter working hours; it was also about the chance to participate fully in community life. Today, in the name of progress, this model has been discarded to the dustbin of history. How many parents would welcome more time with their kids? Sue and I certainly would. How many children would love to see more of mum and dad?

The economic tools used to achieve this ideal may be ineffective or inappropriate today. But that is no excuse for ditching a model of strong family and strong community life. Today, sadly, what are sold as family friendly policies are really market friendly policies. The major parties struggle to reconcile their professed family values with their free-market mantra. They struggle because the two cannot be reconciled. The mantra of choice, competition and consumerism is in conflict with family and community. Often it seems we live in a world where few values matter except those of the market.

I am a proud Australian family man who comes to this parliament with a sense of awe and excitement but also humility. This is an historic occasion. Family First is a new political party and I am its first federal politician. It is historic not just for me but for those all around Victoria and Australia who gave selflessly to make today happen. I am particularly grateful to all our candidates, volunteers, staff and supporters--and of course to the Australian people and families who voted for us. I thank you.

Being the public voice for Australian families is a great responsibility which carries with it some big challenges but also some big opportunities. What I bring to this parliament is a strong conviction that the family is the foundation upon which all societies are built and sustained. There should not be a need for a political party called Family First. But there is a need, because too often decisions made in Canberra do not put families first. Instead, it is families second and political ideologies first.

It is pretty simple: to build Australia, surely we need to be paying more attention to the wellbeing of families and making that our top priority. The fact that children are our future ought to be obvious. The major parties do not seem to understand or care enough about this reality and they do not make the future of families and their wellbeing the foundation upon which all policies are developed.

Mr President, ask any Australian what is most important to them in their life and they will say their family. I am no different. As a child growing up, I thought my family was the typical Aussie family. However, I now realise that typical was not the best way to describe the Fielding family. My parents, George and Shirley--who are here today--were both only children. They just loved having kids. They loved it so much they kept having them. They stopped when they reached 16. I have seven sisters and eight brothers, aged from 53 to 32. There are no twins or triplets. I am seven down from the top. Home was a three-bedroom house in Reservoir in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, where Mum and Dad still live today with my sister Sandra, who has an intellectual disability. Mum and Dad will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary next month, which is another amazing achievement. I love them very much.

Dad worked at a hardware supplies company called McPhersons. He started there as an office boy when he was 16 and stayed there 40 years. He did a lot of overtime and had a second job on Saturday mornings to make extra money. Mum's parents lived nearby and gran used to stay with us from Monday to Friday. She slept in a bed in the hallway which was pushed to one side during the day time. We did not have much money or material things but what mum and dad did give us was plenty of love, time and an education.

They taught me values such as honesty and respect for others and gave me things which I will have with me forever: a sense of purpose, a sense of who I am and what I could aspire to. Mum and dad taught me that happiness comes from family, not money. They also instilled in me the obligation to contribute to my community. While money was tight, mum is proud of the fact that we never missed a Royal Melbourne Show. With each passing year, there were more and more kids. Dad's request for a family pass at the turnstiles seemed to require more and more creative accounting. I have fond memories of our annual camping holiday on the coast at Torquay, where we would pitch two big scout tents, one for sleeping in and one for eating in.

For the last 23 years, I have been in the work force earning a living trying to do the best for my family. The last five years, I have been in the superannuation industry, one of our most regulated, so as well as understanding the importance of saving and being conscious of the debt levels of the average Australian household, I also understand small business and red tape.

While proud of my work, my proudest achievement is my own family--my wife Susan and our three children, James, Campbell and Gabrielle. They are my life and sustain me, day in and day out. I am also proud of the fact that Sue and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary next Wednesday. I really believe the heroes of Australia are its mums and dads. They have the toughest job of all: raising children. Children really are the great life work of parents. Australia is the magnificent country it is today in large part because of the sacrifices made by mums and dads to give their children the opportunity to get ahead and to teach them the values they need to be good citizens.

The Australia of tomorrow will be influenced by the children of today, just as the Australia of today has been shaped by the children of yesterday. But what my parents and their generation see today I do not believe is what many of them expected. We live in an age of self: self-interest, self-fulfilment and self-promotion. It is also an age of materialism. Far too many of us feel defined by what we own, what we earn, where we live, where we go on holidays and where we send our kids to school. This thinking, this culture, is the legacy of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s--the era in which I grew up. It was a time when traditional values were thought to be oppressive, to hold people back; where the world would be a better place if we could be free to maximise our personal enjoyment. I remember in high school when the teacher gave us the choice about whether we attended or not. And the result? I became a great squash player and my golf handicap came down.

It was the era that challenged authority at home, at school and on the streets, an era in which the basic wage to support a family was ditched in favour of a wage to support an individual. The government's financial support for families, especially lower income families, is welcome. However, the fact that this is needed proves that a single income is no longer sufficient to support a family.

Thirty years on from the cultural revolution, we can examine the results, and they are not what many intended. Demolishing our traditional social structures has simply enslaved us to the forces of the market. Where once the labour market respected the fact that workers had family responsibilities, today workers struggle to balance their paid work and family life. Sue and I are wealthier than my parents. We have been to more places, live in a bigger house and have more gadgets. But does that make our generation happier than that of our parents? I do not think so.

Removing restraints on social behaviour has led to a huge increase in social problems. Divorce rates and relationship breakdowns are up. Suicide rates are disturbingly high, especially among teenagers. Drug use is up amongst teenagers and even younger children. Obesity levels are up. We are more insecure. Parents are uncertain about their roles. Children do not know their limits.

We are also told lifelong employment is a thing of the past, and a permanent full-time job is a luxury. We all know the saying, 'We can't turn back the clock.' But does that assume we never make mistakes and that all progress is good? Why can't progress be subjected to the same reality test as anything else? History does matter. We need to keep the best of the past and, if needs be, restore it when we go wrong. Take the eight-hour day as an example. One hundred and fifty years ago our forebears fought for the idea of eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours leisure. It was not just about shorter working hours; it was also about the chance to participate fully in community life. Today, in the name of progress, this model has been discarded to the dustbin of history. How many parents would welcome more time with their kids? Sue and I certainly would. How many children would love to see more of mum and dad?

The economic tools used to achieve this ideal may be ineffective or inappropriate today. But that is no excuse for ditching a model of strong family and strong community life. Today, sadly, what are sold as family friendly policies are really market friendly policies. The major parties struggle to reconcile their professed family values with their free-market mantra. They struggle because the two cannot be reconciled. The mantra of choice, competition and consumerism is in conflict with family and community. Often it seems we live in a world where few values matter except those of the market.

There is huge pressure on almost every activity to be financially viable--to compete, to pay its own way and to show a healthy bottom line. But Australians are not economic units, Australian households are not harbours of consumption and Australian children are not commodities. Productivity should be geared as much to helping workers become better parents and family members as to boosting profits and returns to shareholders. How many Australians have asked, like I have: 'Does my paid work dictate my life and, if so, is my family suffering because of it?'

A current example of the tension between the market and families is seen in the debate about the government's workplace changes. There seems to be a growing concern that many Australians are there to serve the market rather than the market being a tool to serve them, especially families and small businesses. There is no doubt where Family First and I stand on this battle, and I have no doubt where most Australians would line up.

Putting the primary focus on the family does not mean individuals do not have personal responsibility. Within the family, everybody has responsibilities. In my case, when I was growing up my job was to peel the potatoes--and I can tell you that for 18 people that is a lot of spuds a week! In the same way, families have responsibilities to the community, just as the community has responsibilities to families. It is a two-way street. We all need to pull our weight. My hope is that we will discharge our responsibilities as legislators by looking at the world through the prism of children and families. That is why Family First proposed family impact statements, and I am delighted the Prime Minister has agreed to prepare them for major legislation.

Currently, a parliamentary committee is inquiring into work and family issues. It will be interesting to see whether it makes recommendations which are genuinely family focused or whether it dresses up market friendly recommendations as being family friendly. For example, despite the apparent sympathy for the stresses on families and the need to find a balance between paid work and family, will it recommend the model of eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours leisure as the ideal for the family and the community? Will it recommend that a single income should be sufficient to support a family? If by the presence of Family First in this place we can persuade the major parties to make the future of families and their wellbeing the prism through which all policies are developed, the efforts of all who made this day possible will have been worth while.

Surely it is time to replace our obsession with the market. Let us imagine an Australia where we put the family first. Imagine if families had genuine choice about how they structured their paid work and family life. Imagine if workers could be parents first and workers second. Imagine if workers could feel secure in their jobs and did not have to bargain for basic wages and conditions. Imagine if we could reduce the crippling number of marriage and relationship breakdowns which wreak such a devastating toll on families. Imagine a culture where the first question we always ask is: 'What's best for our families? What's best for our kids?' Ultimately, that is what is best for this great nation of Australia.


------


email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet


Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

© 1999-2002 Workers Online
Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
provided by the Labor Council of NSW
URL: http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200509/a_guestreporter_fielding.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

Powered by APT Solutions
Labor Council of NSW Workers Online
LaborNET