Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
Justice, Applied Liberally
Okay, money rules the world - but couldn't we also have some humanity?
The cold-hearted approach of economic rationalists to the pursuit of economic growth seems to have no limits.
The disturbing thing about the conservative stock exchange approach is that anything can be rationalised, and we all suffer as a result when we swallow their line.
Here's an example...
In response to a projected 1% slowing of the Israeli economy this year due to the latest round of hostilities and deaths, Bank of Israel Governor Stan Fischer has been reported as saying from New York, "I expect the situation would not continue for many months, that would be unacceptable." Indeed...
Warming to the task of explaining the approach to war, the Governor continued his analysis with an upbeat assessment, saying the war would probably have most impact in the third quarter but that it would likely reduce because, "people are working out how to work around the constraints."
The Governor had visited factories where management had spread workers' shifts to reduce exposure to attacks. Commenting on this he said, "I've been very impressed by how much the exporters in particular understand they've got to keep meeting orders."
It was also reported that foreign capital continued to flow into the country, with two Israeli companies being purchased since the war began.
On 25th July, Hewlett Packard bought Mercury Interactive, a software testing company for US$4.5 billion. Mercury Interactive had been de-listed from the Nasdaq in January this year because of non-compliance by Executive management who had been manipulating their stock options.
Another company, M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers, was bought by US company SanDisk Corp, for US$1.7 billion. At the time, M-Systems had been having an internal investigation into granting prior stock options to Executives whilst at the same time postponing a public share offering.
There are many more examples of greed and economic rationalism at work, but the one above struck me as particularly callous, and ...well, downright insane.
Rationalists want to count everything - except the bodies, the maimed and the dispossessed.
Conservatives also claim that collectivism is bad. For Conservatives, collective action is something that shouldn't be available to the little guy because they know the most effective response to economic rationalism is collectivism.
But Conservatives are always up for a gatecrash to support collective action when it suits them...
Late last month, NSW Parliamentary staff gathered in Macquarie Street on the first day of the Spring 2006 session to voice their concerns about the decision to freeze staff and cut jobs across the board.
It was predictable to see State Liberal and National politicians wearing "Public interest - Job cuts = Service cuts" stickers on their suits, but the Coalition's duplicitous approach didn't wash with the workers.
They know Opposition leader Peter Debnam plans to slash 29,000 workers if ever elected.
Parliament House Workers perform essential duties in areas like Hansard, Chamber Attendants, Information Technology, Library and Research, Security, Catering, Maintenance, Cleaning, and Committee work to name some.
A large number of staff in these services are immigrants or are from Non English Speaking Backgrounds. They don't get paid a fortune, and they work hard with dignity and pride in demanding jobs.
They bring massive amounts of goodwill to their efforts because they believe the Parliament symbolises the collective aspirations of the people of NSW. Many Parliamentary staff are highly qualified and sacrifice much because of their belief in public service.
The public benefits from their work on a daily basis, whether it be visits by school children to Parliament to learn about democracy, or tourists from here and overseas who have come to see the oldest Parliament in Australia in action, or community groups undertaking important public awareness and fundraising activities.
There is also the small matter of ensuring Members are able to carry out their duties and the public is able to access this democratic process.
If you believed the disingenuous spin campaign against NSW Parliament staff, you'd think everyone sits around eating spatchcock and truffles. It's simply not true. It's more than a symbolic fight against economic rationalism.
The microcosm of the NSW Parliament staff's fight for the public interest reflects badly on the lazy approach taken by Conservative politicians who think they can appear tough by taking out what they think are soft tabloid targets.
Having worked and spoken with the Parliamentary staff and seen the good will they bring in performing diverse and demanding work - I can say they appear determined to show they mean business when they say they want meaningful consultation, job security and fair and reasonable workloads.
It's a soft option for those responsible for implementing the Budget cuts to target the most vulnerable people who work the hardest and deliver the most and present the Parliament as a showcase of democracy to the general public.
The action being taken, whilst not as tempestuous, reminded me of the Workers Compensation picket of Parliament back in 2001.
At that time, serious threats to injured workers entitlements were presented.
And now the Conservatives bring another serious threat to workers in NSW. NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam wants to hand over workers compensation to the Howard Government.
The Howard Government currently has on the table proposals on OH&S that would mean:
- Employers wouldn't have to negotiate with unions about OH&S agreements for their workplace;
- Smaller entitlements under the national Comcare system, due to different eligibility criteria; and
- Large multi-state employers moving to Comcare and leaving reduced premium pools that State businesses would have to pay for.
There is also a bill currently before the Australian Parliament to cover private sector corporations under the OH&S Act if they are also licensed to self-insure under the Commonwealth's workers' compensation scheme - 'ConCare' - sorry I meant ComCare.
So to counter, Minister Della Bosca has indicated NSW and Victoria will move to address any difficulties businesses operating in both states may face in complying with their OH&S responsibilities.
Federal Minister Kevin Andrews earlier this year when announcing a review of the Federal OH&S Act stated, "The review strongly reflects the Australian Government's commitment to improving workplace safety with an emphasis on cooperation at the individual workplace level."
That's code for breaking down the collective. But let's take him at his word and see just how committed the Federal government is to working at the individual level to improve safety.
Let's compare NSW and Federal Governments OH&S compliance action. Using the figures for 2004/05:
- Number of workplace inspectors - NSW has 301, the Federal government has just 20.
- Workplace visits - NSW conducted 20,892 visits, the Federal government just 203.
- Advice on fixing OH&S issues (PINS) - NSW issued 18,213, the Federal government just 12.
- Prohibition notices - NSW issued 1,421, the Federal government just 20.
- Prosecutions - NSW made 384 prosecutions, the Federal government just 1.
It doesn't sound like much of a commitment to me - more a recipe for people going to work in the morning and never coming home to their family.
If NSW and Victoria don't act as a collective against the Federal threat - and large businesses transfer out of the State systems - it's the States who will be left to pick up the tab. And with that comes the threat of higher premiums for smaller businesses.
So in coming together to meet the Conservative attack, NSW and Victoria have over half of the Australian workforce covered.
That means the NSW Government has an added responsibility to ensure it can maintain and improve outcomes for injured workers.
And it gives responsible employers the opportunity to continue to work constructively with unions to lower costs without comprising their employees' safety.
On another matter of the Conservative attack, I read with interest the High Court's recent ruling in Campbells Cash and Carry Pty Limited v Fostif Pty Limited; Australian Liquor Marketers Pty Limited v Berney  HCA 41 (30 August 2006) - that may see increased shareholder class action in the event of Boards of Directors of large companies not performing their fiduciary duties in protecting the interests of shareholders.
The ruling effectively means that small shareholders may band together and have their legal action funded or underwritten by a third party in pursuit of a matter of public interest or policy.
Now, in the past month I haven't become some sort of rabid cheerleader and defender of the shareholder imperative of the divine right of the mighty dollar, but rather I'm heartened that the principle of the inalienable right to collectively bargain has been upheld again.
The ruling means that large companies who used to act with immunity and know they could beat small claims through procedural attrition - may now face a more level playing field.
I would hope the Judges of the High Court of Australia would keep the principle of defending the rights of the little person, the battler, to have the option of the support of the collective against the excesses of large companies similarly when bringing down its judgement on the State's challenge to WorkChoices.
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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