Interview: Public Defender
Legal: Craig's Story
Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
Politics: Queue Jumping
History: Iron Heel
Economics: Waging War
International: Under Pressure
Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
Review: A Pertinent Proposition
The Locker Room
Truth in Advertising
What a Woman!
It's Not Pretty
There is a new society emerging in Australia. A society that is obsessed with the culture of individualism in a way that is bigger than anyone would have imagined possible.
All the time now, ordinary people compete against one another for the chance to become something that they imagine is extraordinary - a minor celebrity. Each week voting dismisses contestants from reality editions of Pop Idol, Big Brother, the Apprentice, Joe Millionaire, Australian Princess or Survivor.
And, if you get caught in a landslide or taken hostage somewhere, you can get a biography out and bank your appearance fees for news and current affairs television. Get your name in the paper for something more than just being born or dying.
The darker side of all this pushing and shoving to get to the front of the 'look at me' queue is people lying to save their skins - throwing the truth overboard, if you will - stealing ideas from work colleagues or, worse still, bullying workmates to drive them out of an organisation.
This darker side to individualism is eating at the respect people have for each other. There never used to be road rage. Now people yell at each other and come to blows anywhere that their interests compete - the queue at the supermarket, getting on a bus or catching a wave in the surf.
It's more than the end of community life; it's the development of a culture that's redefining one of the oldest ideas in Australian life - the fair go.
When you or your friends and family use the words 'fair go', you could be talking about the collective or you could be talking about the individual. We say that we want a fair go for ourselves or for someone else, when we want to be inclusive so that each of us can have the same opportunities as everyone else.
But this is not the version of the fair go that John Howard has been working to create. His version is about the individual breaking through the ranks of the collective looking for something better for themselves, which is not such a bad thing, except when it's done at the expense of everyone else.
Instead of a society that is relaxed and comfortable in each other's company, John Howard is helping create a society that is anxious and alarmed; a society of the beady-eyed who are looking around for the next kill and watching their backs at the same time.
The Industrial Relations changes the Government released this month will further destroy the collective idea of a fair go so that we forget it could ever have meant anything but a holy grail for me, myself and mine. This legislation has one purpose alone; to drain collective action of its blood and life and kill and bury it forever.
When the ACTU argued for increases in the minimum wage, since 1999, the Howard Government argued that 146,000 jobs would be lost. When, in fact, the number of people employed increased by 1.2 million. The Government is ignoring the fact that Australians are already working harder than anyone in the Western world.
Things are going to be worse for Australians at the bottom end. When unskilled workers change jobs they lose entitlements when they start with a new AWA. Low wage earners are already receiving smaller increases than higher wage earners. Figures show that between 1998 and 2004 the total average weekly earnings of higher income earners went up by 4.8% (for the 80th percentile) and 13.4% (for the 90th percentile) while those on a low income (at 10th or 20th percentile) increased by just 1.2%.
Women, too, are among those affected because a quarter of all working women exist on the minimum wage. The pay gap for women is 20% lower under individual contracts than the 15% of collective agreements. Women who need time from work need to be careful about cashing in leave entitlements because they may need these if they are unable to find child care in the future.
The new laws take the bargaining power that eight million Australians have held as a right and gives it to their employers. The independent arbiter has been abolished and union representation is being stamped out.
Australians have to work to keep their families together and participate in the community life of their society. Many will do whatever is required to maintain this stability, but there will come a point when individualism and materialism looses its attractiveness and they will be able to take no more.
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