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May 2006   

Interview: Out of the Bedroom
Reverend Jim Wallis is leading a crusade to take the moral debate into the public arena.

Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
The Howard Government has begun a series of workshops to sell its WorkChoice vsision. Sean Ambrose sneaked through the doors for Workers Online.

Unions: Lockout!
Jim Comerford’s eyewitness account of the 15-month Lockout of 10,000 New South Wales miners in1929-1930 records the inside story of Australia’s most bloody and bitter industrial conflict

Legal: The Fantasy of Choice
Professor Ron McCallum argues the WorkChoices laws are built on a fundamental fiction.

Politics: Labor Pains
Labor has dealt itself out of the crucial workplace relations debate by failing to articulate a credible policy alternative to Howard’s new WorkChoices legislation, argues Mark Heearn and Grant Michelson

Economics: Economics and the Public Purpose
Evan Jones pays tribute to John Kenneth Galbraith, a big man who never stopped arguing that economics should serve the public good, not create public squalor.

Corporate: House of Horrors
Anthony Keenan takes a tour of Sydney’s notorious, Asbestos House, courtesy of Gideon Haig.

History: Clash Of Cultures
Neale Towart with a new take on Mayday through the words of a punk icon

International: Childs Play
An ILO report into Child Labour shows some progress is being made to curb this gobal scurge .

Culture: Folk You Mate!
Phil Doyle dodges Morris Dancers to find signs of Working Life at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over the Easter Weekend.

Review: Last Holeproof Hero
Finally, a superhero who has worked out how to wear his underpants. Nathan Brown ogles V for Vendetta


The Soapbox
Albo's Meltdown
Labor's environment spokesman Antony Albanese argues that Chrernobyl is one reason why the ALP should stand firm on nuclear.

The Locker Room
A Sort Of Homecoming
Phil Doyle plays to the whistle.

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West reports from Macquarie Street on some strange collective acction.


Contract With Australia
If WorkChoices is the legislative expression of the Howard Government’s ideological hatred of unions, the Independent Contractors Act is the product of an altogether more dangerous form of ideological zealotry.


 Andrews Axes Safety

 Plant Fission for Cost Savings

 Spotless Bosses Blame Howard

 Aussie Bushman Pronounced Dead

 Who's Smirking Now?

 Yellow Bosses See Red

 Amber Light on Howard's Way

 Secret Police Spook Mum

 Wally Pollies Set for Cracker

 Qantas to Parachute In Pilots

 Unmask the Puppeteers, Union Demands

 Cleaners Mop Up

 Cane Toads Hop Into Johnny

 King of Onkaparinga Cries Poor

 Activist's What's On!

 Restaurant a Rip Off
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The Westie Wing

Our favourite MP, Ian West reports from Macquarie Street on some strange collective acction.


This month NSW National Party politicians are joining their union, State Country Liberals are advocating two hour working days, and City Liberals are convinced workers have never had it so good, reports Ian West.

He's a grazier from an established family in Crookwell and clearly the wind has changed, because the National Party Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Duncan Gay has become one of the newest members of the Union representing farmers - NSW Farmers Federation.

Duncan Gay recently was presented with his membership card by Farmers Union president, Jock Laurie.

Clearly he sees benefits in belonging to a collective organisation that provides support, advice and advocacy on behalf of the community. So now, Duncan will be able to exercise his membership rights, vote on policy issues affecting farmer's union members.

I'm not sure why it's taken him so long, coming more than thirty years after he assumed his birthright as a National Party member.

There's not too many Nats around these days. But even Duncan understands there's safety in numbers - and that it's a smart thing to join the union.

Congratulations Duncan - you've come a long way.

Duncan is just one of the many thousands of people in NSW who have joined their Union in recent months, as the new NoChoices legislation takes effect.

Although the vast majority of Australians are against the laws, NSW Country Liberal Member Catherine Cusack has continued a family tradition of union hating.

The great grand daughter of a Labor MP, Catherine used her first speech to the Parliament to regale her first seminal moment in politics when her family farm was picketed in the 1970s.

Her second seminal moment was as a Young Liberal when she believed Robert Menzies and the Liberal Party were "progressive," and so she made a speech in support of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Anyway, Catherine "Four legs good, Two legs bad" Cusack hates unions, and she loves the Liberal Party. Moreover, she loves Workchoices, particularly for those people who want two hours work a day.

Just this week in defence of Workchoices she said of Club workers on the North Coast, "The people primarily employed in these positions were women with children, and it really suited them to work either during school hours or after dinner, say between 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock in a club, two hours a night, five nights a week. It was absolutely ideal for them..."

And she continued later with , "Those low-income women, who needed that flexibility in order to minimise their child care costs..."

I'm not too sure what childcare or hospitality workers would make of these comments, but I should point out that where Catherine "Four legs good, two legs bad" Cusack comes from - unemployment is running at an official rate of nearly 11% as at January this year. Youth unemployment is nearly triple.

And that's just the official rate!

Catherine probably wouldn't know that people who work one hour a week but spend every other hour of it looking for a job are counted as being employed by the Howard Government, nor that people who work on a family farm or business for more than one hour week - without getting paid - are actually counted as being employed.

Nor are people who have been stood down for less than four weeks in a sample period. Nor are people who are too ill temporarily to work.

Nope - these people are all employed according to the Liberal Party.

Yes the same Liberal Party that believes workers on $482 a week get paid $70 too much. Yes the same Liberal Party that has been in power for over a decade and where there are still 2 million people who actually want to work and cannot get work.

For the benefit of the Member, Bureau of Statistics figures released in March this year show that real unemployment is over 17% and that 2 million Australians want to work - but there aren't any jobs. What does the Howard Government do? It simply doesn't count these people - it says there are 545,000 Australians who are officially unemployed.

Underemployment figures show that 612,000 existing part-time workers want more hours, and that most of them want full-time work. Professor John Quiggin in March this year said, "There are about two million people who typically would have got jobs in the 1960s who can't get work now."

The Coalition has still not delivered to these 2 million people. It has spent 10 years in power but has instead attacked another 1.6 million people - the lowest paid. That's 3.6 million people.

Well Catherine, where are the jobs your Liberal Party has created? Hiding under the petrol increases maybe? Perhaps they're somewhere in that sixth interest rate rise since 2001?

But Catherine kept a stiff upper lip in defending the Howard Government and attacking workers and their representatives to the point where she professed children on the North Coast who develop their skills and motivations would become - wait for it - "absolute Kings in the Australian economy."

This divine right to rule attitude exemplifies the survival of the fittest philosophy that makes the Liberal Party so indifferent to the real plight of mainstream Australians under the Howard Government.

But Catherine "Four legs good, two legs bad" Cusack was only just warming up, saying later in her contribution "I am incredibly grateful that John Howard is in office. I do not shy away at all from the job he is doing, particularly in relation to workplace reforms, and I wish the Howard Government every success."

So I thought I'd heard it all during the debate, but then my favourite Liberal Party Member stepped up to the plate to whack unions with his baseball bat.

Who else but The Honourable Greg Pearce - white, middle-aged, a six-figure salary fully superannuated, full-time, in a secure white-collar job with eight year's tenure. He and his Liberal colleagues attempt to claim they understand challenges faced by mainstream Australians.

Greg Pearce said under the Howard Government, workers have never had it so good. He's clearly never mixed with mainstream Australia.

Just ask the call centre workers, abattoir workers, building workers, waterfront workers, casual workers, cleaners and childcare workers - "Have you ever had it so good?"

And on Pearce went, "The story on interest rates is the same: fine management by the Howard Government."

Typically, there was no mention by Pearce that John Howard was responsible for real interest rates of 13.5% between 1981 and 1983 when he was Treasurer.

Greg Pearce along with other Liberals try and attribute local management to the level of Australian interest rates. The Coalition has claimed ownership of interest rates. Logically the Coalition needs to be responsible for future interest rate rises.

Especially when you consider the spending spree of the Federal Coalition in 2004, when it made $65 billion in election promises. That most certainly added to the pressure of higher interest rates.

Perhaps we'll be hearing more about external factors like the oil price and what overseas and domestic investors can earn here compared to other countries.

Perhaps we'll hear more about the World Bank Chief Economist Policy Research Paper entitled, Global transmission of interest rates - where it states "In other industrial countries, including smaller economies with floating regimes (Australia, Canada and New Zealand), local interest rates fully reflect United States rates."

The fact is, any Australian who has borrowed since 2001 has never enjoyed a rate reduction. Instead they have had six rate increases - Duncan Gay and his National Party colleagues will need only one hand to count that high.

And record levels of household debt now mean that a rise of 1.5% on today's interest rate would have the same effect on the economy as a 17% interest rate. We as a nation are now more vulnerable than ten years ago to fluctuations in international markets, because the Howard Government has created unsustainable levels of private and household debt.

For all the talk of economic management, Greg Pearce also failed to mention that Australia has the second highest interest rate of the 18 countries in the OECD.

The fact is, all OECD countries reduced their interest rates between 1996 and 2004. In 1996, Australia had the second highest interest rate among OECD countries, 1.4 points above the mean, and in 2004 Australia still had the second highest interest rate, and still 1.4 points above the mean.

Housing mortgages measured against the size of the GDP doubled in Australia between 1992 and 2002, rising from 24 per cent to 51 per cent. The size of the increase was much greater in Australia than in any of the other OECD countries.

The Federal Parliamentary Library publications on monthly economic and social indicators show home affordability has plunged under the Howard Government.

All this is happening while Coalition members at State and Federal levels want to drive down wages and attack the pay, conditions and security of Australians.

But I return to Greg Pearce - Liberal Party legend. He said "The Federal Government's economic performance has been excellent. Another measure of the state of workers and how they have been treated under the Federal Government is real wages growth."

In the last fair wage case heard by the Australian Industrial relations Commission, the Federal Government made a measly offer of just $11 a week to those 1.6 million workers who live on just $484.40 a week. That represented just $0.29 cents an hour - less than inflation - and would have resulted in a real wage cut.

The Howard Government has opposed every minimum wage claim since it was elected in 1996. The Coalition hates the 1.6 million workers on the minimum wage so much, it even abolished the court in which they get a decent, independent hearing.

I was concerned particularly about Greg Pearce's assertions that real wages have grown massively under the Federal Government's tenure.

Perhaps he is thinking of the 50 highest paid CEOs of Australia who enjoyed average annual pay growth of 13.5% between 1990 and 2005, whilst average adult earnings increased just 4.2% over the same period.

In 2006, under John Howard, Australian CEO's earn 63 times more than average workers, whilst a few generations ago they earned 10 times more than workers.

But we can see also how Australian workers and their families are doing under the Howard Government when we look at the share of the economy average Australians actually get.

The wage share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Australian workers in the 2005 June quarter was near a record low of 53.2 per cent. During the early 1980s, the wage share was 61 per cent.

The same ABS figures show company profits for the June 2005 quarter reached a record of 27.4 per cent of GDP, up from 22.6 per cent in the mid-1990s.

HSBC global bank chief economist John Edwards has said he can't see how the IR changes would lead to any major increase in productivity, rather the package would only cut unemployment further if it resulted in lower minimum wages.

"If real wages, particularly those down the bottom, decline over time then you would expect profits to be higher...I think that is probably the intended impact, although the Government won't say it. I don't think they'll have a major impact but these changes are far more likely to increase employment by cutting real wages rather than any increase in productivity," he said.

Bishop Christopher Saunders wrote this month that, "My brother bishops and I articulated a number of concerns that go to the likely effects of the Workchoices legislation, and to particular effects that can strike the most vulnerable: That minimum wages would be pushed lower or erode over time; That creating jobs by allowing wages and conditions to fall would do little to lift people out of poverty; That a reduction of the award safety net would see the loss of fair standards of employment for all; That the removal of unfair dismissal laws for most businesses would exacerbate job insecurity; That the role of unions representing their members and other workers would be weakened. These concerns remain."

The Federal Government's legislative changes no longer require that the award safety net and the minimum wage be fair. On top of this, the Federal Government has removed any requirement for the Fair Pay Commission to consider the current economic factors faced by working families. The minimum wage isn't required to rise in real terms.

There is absolutely no consideration of what is a liveable wage - instead, people's livelihoods are pitched against a vague concept of what a business's capacity to pay might be.

I wonder what people like The Honourable Greg Pearce think? How much money should the lowest paid lose?

This is all coming from Liberal and National Party Members who don't want to have an inquiry into the impact of the WorkChoices legislation on families, country people, young people, small businesses and on work/life balance.

I haven't heard any comments from Coalition members about the recently approved 10.5% increase to the SACS Award. Some 6000 workers are looking to the Iemma Government to fund the increase and ensure it keeps ahead of inflation over the next three years, so they can maintain services.

So too are the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on vital services such as Hostels for the Homeless, Community Housing, Community Legal Centres, Neighbourhood Centres, Women's Refuges, Drug and Alcohol Counselling, Youth Services, Disability Support Services, Family Support, Community Health, Settlement Services, Home and Community Care and many more too numerous to name here.

I'm pleased to take this opportunity to announce the result of the inaugural online poll on my website - "Do you think WorkChoices is good for you?"

The result was 3 people said yes and 119 people said no. The results speak for themselves.

If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]


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