Sunday, May 28, 2006

Rally June 28 to say no to unfair work laws!

Say No to Unfair Work Laws!

Australia-wide Week of Action June 25 – July 1

  • Sacked by text message.
  • Fired then rehired on a contract that pays $200 less a week.
  • Pay docked for doing a whip around for the widow of a mate killed on the job.
All around the nation Australians have felt first hand the real cost of the Howard Government’s new industrial relations laws.June 25 – July 1: Take action all around Australia

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Howard's red carpet!

May 20Illustration: Ron Tandberg

If the Answer is Nuclear ….

At least George Dubya still has some influence. Not in his own country, certainly not in Europe, not even in the former dominions of Latin America.

But here in Australia we are again whistling to his Dixie. The lame duck leader of the free world gives John Howard an energy tip on his victory lap - go nukes. And we all fall under the spell.

The re-emergence of the uranium debate is particularly confronting for someone politicised by the nuclear disarmament movement in the early 1980s.

The issue was the Cold War and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction - the spectre of the apocalyptic power of enriched uranium to end life on this earth.

The treat hung over us as we picketed the USS Missouri, voted for Pete Garret and challenged a doctrine where two men's fingers dictated our collective survival.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Labor, unions unite against nuclear power

Labor has closed ranks to head off a political assault by the Howard Government on the party's shifting stance on nuclear energy, with union leaders backing Kim Beazley and Opposition resources spokesman Martin Ferguson declaring Australia will not embrace nuclear power.

The Opposition Leader and Mr Ferguson issued a joint statement yesterday declaring there would be "no nuclear power in Australia under a Beazley government".

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Nuclear energy has become the latest prime ministerial cause. Suddenly he's saying it is absolutely urgent we have the debate, and making it sound as though Australia stands on the brink of its nuclear power age.

Howard has promised to quickly give "form and structure" to the debate.

It might look as if the PM had an epiphany while he was in North America, where he talked nuclear with US President George Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He was galvanised by high oil prices and extolled the virtues of "cleaner and greener" power.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Canada: BHP Billiton must respect its workers

By using scabs at its Ekati diamond mine and by refusing to bargain in good faith with its 400 unionized workers, BHP Billiton is showing its contempt for Canadian workers.

According to the National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) John Gordon, “if BHP Billiton wants to stay in Canada and continue to do business, it has to respect Canadian workers.”

Gordon is in Yellowknife today to show his support to the 400 PSAC members at the Ekati diamond mine who have been on strike since April 7. The main issues in dispute are job security, seniority, holiday leave and wages. Despite having made 7.5 billion dollars in profit last year, BHP Billiton refuses to recognize the years of service of its employees and job security, is offering only a 1% wage increase. Furthermore, the company thinks that two weeks of holiday per year for such hard work is enough.

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Esselte launches assault on workers’ rights

A Sydney stationary distribution company has launched an all-out assault on the wages and conditions of their workers.

Management at Esselte Australia, based at Minto in South Western Sydney, has boasted that it will use John Howard’s anti-worker Industrial Relations laws to the “letter of the law”, which translates to an attack on its workers’ pay and conditions.

Esselte Australia, which is owned by the giant US-based J W Childs Corporation and has an annual turnover of US$1.5 billion, has proposed individual contracts (AWAs) to their employees during negotiations for a new union Collective Agreement.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Science Budget: lowest for 20 years

The Australian government should have spent more of its budget surplus on building the nation's future r&d capacity rather than tax breaks, say commentators in the science community.

The 2006-07 federal budget has delivered A$5.97 billion for science and innovation and $559.6 million to universities, primarily for capital developments.

While the government describes the spending on science and innovation as being at record level, and points to a big boost given to medical research, many say the government's spending priorities are leaving Australia behind in terms of future capacity.

Professor Snow Barlow of the University of Melbourne says the amount spent on science and innovation may be a record in absolute terms, but as a percentage of gross national product it is decreasing.

"It's actually lower than it's been in 20 years," says Barlow, who is a former member of the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.

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Perth: Asian workers to get half union rate

Builder Gerry Hanssen has admitted he wants to import Asian workers and will pay them less than half the amount earned by locals on union deals in a deliberate attempt to undermine the construction union.

Mr Hanssen, who is on a recruitment drive overseas, accused the union of inflating costs across the industry by extorting unreasonable wages amid the labour shortage.

Hanssen Industries has government approval for 53 Chinese and Filipino guest workers and Mr Hanssen is in Beijing seeking to double the quota and speed up the process.

"I am undoing what the union has been fighting for 30 years . . . by bringing in the no-ticket, no-start rule they made this industry an exclusive club and I'm undoing this club," Mr Hanssen said.

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White House: Protest greets Howard

"It's wonderful to be here with our dear friends the Howards," said Mr Bush, adding that the trees would be a symbol of enduring friendship between the Australian and American people.

"I can't thank you enough, John, for your strong support for the liberty agenda and the deep desire for the world to be a peaceful place. I really enjoy working with you for the common good."


Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon have urged Prime Minister John Howard to pull Australian troops out of Iraq.

Sheehan, whose son was killed while serving with US troops in Iraq, will visit Australia next week (May 22) for a series of anti-war rallies.

She said Howard had been a fool to follow US President George Bush into war.

"I think that George Bush is a fool and anybody who aligns with George Bush right now, especially with his administration crumbling from this corruption, I think they should distance themselves and quit supporting my country in committing crimes against humanity."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Maritime Workers: International day of action

Solidarity protests in support of 600 exploited workers employed at Blue Diamond in California, USA, will get under way around the world tomorrow, with MUA members in Sydney and Melbourne converging on Australian importer, Scalzo Pty Ltd.

Blue Diamond, is the world's biggest almond processor, exporting 70 per cent of its goods to 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Australia. But it pays the majority of its workers a miserly $11/hour, has been found guilty of 28 labour law violations.

Workers at its Sacramento plant are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

"We've got a close working relationship with the ILWU," said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin. "US longshore workers forced the Colombus Canada ship to turn back during the Patrick dispute in 1998,when we let them know it was loaded by non-union labour. We haven't forgotten."

The day of world solidarity is timed to coincide with the ILWU's national congress in Vancouver, Canada, where Mr Crumlin is guest speaker.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Beaconsfield rescue: Beaconsfield


A song by Colin Buchanan©2006 Universal Music (Aust.)

play MP3

Way down south in Beaconsfield
Late on Anzac Day
A thousand metres down below
A hundred tons gave way
Fourteen miners scrambled clear
But there were 17 went down
Fallen rock and twisted steel
Three men down in Beaconsfield
Three men down in Beaconsfield

Well Larry didn't make it out
They found him two days in
Still no sign of Todd and Brant
Things were looking grim
Come late on Sunday afternoon
Hope was all but dead
When voices in the dark revealed
Two alive in Beaconsfield
There's two alive in Beaconsfield

There were tears of joy, they're safe and strong
A miracle from God
Across the town, across the world
Spread word of Brant and Todd
They chatted to their rescuers
Just metres from their cage
Can you send us down a counter meal
From the Club Hotel in Beaconsfield
From the miner's pub in Beaconsfield

That Tassie rock is hard as nails
But the folks are tougher still
Their family were praying
And their mates were on the drill
And freedom clawed its way on
Through the darkness and the dread
They kept their shoulders to the wheel
They breed 'em tough in Beaconsfield
Breed 'em tough in Beaconsfield

And who'll forget that moment
When the lads we feared were dead
Stepped out onto the surface
Todd Russell and Brant Webb
And they held their loved ones tightly
And moved their tags to "Safe"
And every miner's face revealed
They are the gold of Beaconsfield
They are the gold of Beaconsfield
And they walked free from Beaconsfield

Visit Colin Buchanan's website at

Beaconsfield rescue: The Two-Star Hotel

The Two-Star Hotel

A song by Geoff Francis & Peter Hicks©Geoff Francis & Peter Hicks 2006

play MP3

"Dark as the dungeon" they sing in the song,
Where the miners alone know what really goes on,
On that day the earth shook and the mighty rocks fell,
One brave man was taken, two trapped there in hell.

Above ground the families (they) wait and they wait,
In fear and in hope for some news of their fate,
The five longest days and nights ever passed by,
Till a voice shouted out, "Todd and Brant they're alive!"

For day after day, they kept calm and stayed cool
With jokes and bold laughter, oft playing the fool
Two bravest of miners in that holiest of hell
Union men bunkered Ð in the "Two Star Hotel"

Their rescuers ne'er faltered by day and by night,
Their own lives they risked with just one goal in sight,
The rocks that they fought were the hardest on earth,
All as one put their comrades before their own worth.

There was no room to move, trapped down there in their cage,
Where each day that passed it seemed more like an age,
Then an air hole gave food, a few comforts as well,
Country songs and Foo Fighters rang out in their cell,

There's no flat screen TV there or in-house video,
And there's no satin sheets in that pit down below,
But you never could buy what they had in that cell,
That's the guts and mateship of the " Two Star Hotel"

Seemed the Earth was determined to not let them go,
But these Tasmanian men had a few tricks to show,
The rescuers held firm, would not yield from their task,
And each one he gave more than could ever be asked.

At the end of two weeks they stepped out and walked tall,
With a wave they clocked off, into lovin' arms to fall,
And to pay their respects to their comrade who fell,
So rejoice for the tenants of the "Two Star Hotel",
Yes rejoice for the heroes of the "Two Star Hotel"

You can buy Two Star Hotel - fundraiser CD single for A$15 all profits to Miners Appeal at

Visit the Peter Hicks website at

Howard Government claims IR rights

The Howard Government has insisted on the right to seize control of state workplace laws - covering workers from senior business executives to the low-paid - because of constitutional powers allowing it to "occupy the field of employment contracts".

Declaring that the commonwealth had the power to exclude state laws, lawyers for the Howard Government told the High Court yesterday that Canberra could override the states' laws without having to duplicate their laws in detail.

Barrister Henry Burmester, representing the federal Government, said he did not mean that the commonwealth could "legislate at large".

But the commonwealth's power to legislate on employment contracts using the corporations power of the constitution meant that Canberra could dominate in this area, he said.

Mr Burmester was defending the Government's hostile takeover of state industrial relations laws in the High Court on the final hearing day of a challenge by state Labor governments and unions.

Judges Ian Callinan and Michael Kirby have raised a series of questions during the six-day hearing about how the commonwealth's seizure of state laws using the corporations power might be used to considerably widen its role in areas such as health, education and transport.

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Budget: flight of fancy

May 12Illustration: Ron Tandberg

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lack of faith in ideas and learning could cost Australia

The Age editorial May 11, 2006

"It must be concluded that the Government has an ideological aversion to greater public funding of higher education and skills training. In the meantime, as Education Minister Julie Bishop has observed, higher education has become a focus of development in such countries as the US, Japan, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, which plan to "use brainpower as a catalyst for economic development". A study by the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council has warned that the relative position of Australian education, science and innovation is being eroded. This means our economic capacity to compete and grow is also being eroded."

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Budget: nothing for vital skills

The Opposition, trade unions, and industry groups have slammed the big-spending budget for remaining "absolutely silent" on the critical skills shortage.

At a time when Australia was desperate for more tradespeople, the Government has reduced the percentage of the budget spent on skills and training, said Opposition training spokeswoman Jenny Macklin.

She said $13.7 million had been slashed from a program that encouraged rural businesses to take on apprentices.

"Instead of focusing on training Australians first, the Howard Government has imported an extra 270,000 skilled migrants but has already turned 300,000 Australians from TAFE," Ms Macklin said.

The Australian Industry Group tips the need for 100,00 more tradespeople by 2010, and its chief executive, Heather Ridout, said it was disappointing that more progress had not been made.

"These areas are required to build the competitiveness of Australian business and to assist in rebalancing the economy as the current minerals boom begins to fade," she said.

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Judges: Howard's IR power grab "suspicious"

The Federal Government was asking the High Court to grant it industrial relations powers it had been refused in four referendums, a judge said yesterday.

The High Court questioned the extent of the Government's industrial relations power grab as the Commonwealth argued for the second day that its workplace laws should be upheld.

Justice Ian Callinan said the Commonwealth had failed four times between 1911 and 1946 to expand its industrial relations powers through referendums.

He indicated he felt uncomfortable being asked to grant the Commonwealth powers that Australians had refused on those occasions. "What you are really saying is it is very hard to get a change, therefore, ask the court to do it," he said.

Justice Michael Kirby said he was "a little suspicious" of the Government's motives because it did not refer to its use of the corporations power in the title or objectives of the legislation.

"What is at least a source of puzzlement and anxiety is that in the list of objectives of the act, nowhere is there any suggestion that one of the objects of the Parliament was to make a new law for employment in corporations and that makes you then start to wonder is that really the object of the act or is it, as one looks at it, simply a refurbished industrial employment act with a new label thrown in?" he said.

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Budget: what about the real crises?

The federal government has taken a once-in-a-generation or, even more ominously, a once-in-a-lifetime, bonanza and completely wasted the opportunity to really prepare Australia to meet the future.

The budget has done nothing meaningful to address the real crises that beset Australia.

We have cities running out of water. Where is the funding to start to look at the desperately needed national water reticulation infrastructure?

We have cities choking to death. Where is the funding to fix public transport and urban roads infrastructure?

Did anyone mention global warming? Where is a cent of the windfall directed to the problem that future generations will have to live or die with?

We have an energy crisis. Where is the money to support the innovation required in energy conservation and new forms of energy?

We have a national road infrastructure that even 30 years ago was a disgrace. Where is the money to really sort this out rather than the limp-wristed Band-Aid-on-a-mortar-wound approach perpetuated by this budget?

We have a crisis in public education with an ageing infrastructure that compromises kids' education and an ageing teaching population, up to 40 per cent of whom will head into retirement in the next 10 years. Where is the funding to fix the infrastructure and prepare the next generation of teachers?

We still have a big underclass in Australia. There are 40,000 kids under the age of 20 classified by governments as being at risk. Where is the funding to address this?

We have an ageing population crisis. The Future Fund will ensure that the bloated Canberra bureaucracy and members of parliament will be able to enjoy overseas holidays and good red wine until their death. Where is the Future Fund for the balance of the ageing population who don't have enough time to make up their retirement nest-egg shortfalls?

We can hope Opposition Leader Kim Beazley addresses these problems, but Labor's tendency to navigate by looking into the rear view mirror suggests that this is a vain hope.

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Education the loser in spending war

What happened to the clever country?

The budget shows the Federal Government will spend much more on soldiers than scholars in the years ahead.

Defence has overtaken education as the third biggest area of federal expenditure following welfare and health.

And that pecking order is set to become entrenched.

Defence and education have been neck and neck as a proportion of federal spending for the past five years but Tuesday's budget has ensured defence will streak ahead.

Spending on defence will be $17.9 billion next financial year compared with spending of $16.3 billion on education, the budget papers show.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Budget blind to child care crisis

The Federal Government continues to be blind to the crisis in long day care and has again done nothing in this Budget to help the many working families where women want to, or need to, return to work.

And the Howard Government has done nothing to build a secure, stable childcare workforce which would be trusted by parents - the LHMU Childcare Union said today.

"John Howard and his Ministers must face up to the fact that while they don't provide the funds there will never be enough available places in Australian childcare centres for all the mothers who want to return to work," Jeff Lawrence, LHMU Childcare Union National Secretary said.

The Federal Budget has failed to address the crucial issue of access to childcare leaving about 250,000 Australian families on waiting lists for childcare they can't afford.

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Budget fails education

With a record surplus budget, the Howard Government has squandered an opportunity to invest in the country's most valuable natural resource, our students in public schools and TAFE colleges.

Maree O'Halloran, NSW Teachers' Federation President, said today:

"The Howard Government's commitment to education can be measured by the number of times it was mentioned by the Treasurer in his budget speech, ie, zero.

"Between 2005 -2008, the Howard Government is giving almost three quarters of the federal recurrent education budget to approximately 30% of students in private schools. The Howard Government continues to show contempt for the 70% of students enrolled in public schools.

"As well, there are no provisions which will seriously address the skills shortage facing Australia. John Howard's comment on AM this morning that the establishment of Australian Technical Colleges is meant to do that is disingenuous. What is needed is more government investment in an already well established and productive TAFE system.

"The results of a national pre-budget poll conducted by the Australian Education Union showed that 73% of those surveyed indicated a preference for greater investment in education rather than tax cuts and 90% said that additional funding should go to public schools.

"It is a national disgrace that the Howard Government, awash with funds, continues to fail public education."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sydney: thousands join May Day march

Working families from the Blue Mountains were amongst thousands who gathered in central Sydney last Sunday to send a message about the new workplace laws.

“We’re here today to protect out rights at work, which are under threat from the Howard government’s new workplace laws,“ said Blue Mountains Unions Council President, Kerry Cook, who marched beneath the Blue Mountains Unions Council banner with a score of people who travelled to the city for the day.
The Secretary of the peak council of unions across the state, John Robertson from Unions NSW, welcomed the Mountains contingent to the rally in Hyde Park.

“Working families from the mountains are joining communities across the state, all focussed on dumping these laws,” said Robertson.


Working families from the Blue Mountains will be travelling to Sydney on Sunday to take part in the annual Mayday march.

The march is held every year as a celebration of the achievements of working people and rights at work.

“With our rights at work under attack from Kerry Bartlett’s Liberal Party we are seeing a large increase in people interested in getting involved in the Your Rights At Work campaign,” said Pat O’Beirne from the Blue Mountains Unions Council.

Thousands of working families are expected to rally at Hyde Park North at 11am, this Sunday May 7 to send a message that rights at work are worth fighting for.

With no trackwork scheduled, many working families will be catching the 8.05 am service from Mt Victoria, which stops at all stations through the mountains.

For more information contact Patrick O’Beirne on 02 4758 6493

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Japan: twenty five year picket at OKI

Tanaka Tetsuro has been protesting his dismissal from an electronics company for a quarter of a century. Now his struggle, one of the longest one-man campaigns in Japanese history, is to be the subject of a documentary.

It's a Friday morning in Takao, west Tokyo and a sleepy grey army of salary-men and women is snaking through the gates of Oki Electric.

At a few minutes before 8 a.m., Tanaka Tetsuro pulls up on a moped outside the factory gates, sets up a mike stand attached to a bullhorn and begins strumming his guitar and singing:

There is a wall between you and me which we can't see
Wall of borders, wall of language, wall of history and life

Nobody -- not the bleary-eyed workers, security guards or even the schoolchildren and mothers walking by Oki -- acknowledges the odd sight of a middle-aged man in a cowboy hat crooning peace songs in English before one of Japan's largest electronics companies.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

South Africa: Australian MPs' visit sparks outrage

The Australian Members of Parliaments’ visit today(Saturday) at BHP Billiton’s Hillside Aluminium factory in Richards Bay, Kwazulu-Natal is expected to spark fresh anger and indignation among metalworkers.

Australian government recently ratified new labour market deregulation clauses which
encouraged casualisation and extensive liberalization of existing clauses in an effort to increase labour flexibility laws.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has vowed to mount furious protest demonstrations against the visiting Australian MPs in support of vulnerable casual workers in Australia since the introduction of the new flexible labour laws. Casual employment is prevalent in Australia in that it has expanded in the private sector and in the public service to more than 25% of employment population.

NUMSA is making preparations to display its displeasure at the visiting Australian MPs unwelcome at their reception in the Richards’ Bay airport at 10:30 am Saturday (29 April, 2006), the union’s vice- president Cedric Gina said yesterday.

“Australia has consistently recorded one of the highest levels of temporary employment among most countries. We have to show them they are not welcome here because labour market deregulation in conjunction with structural economic change in their country has

resulted in the expansion of unregulated sphere of individual contracts governed by the common law. That situation is not wanted in this country,”

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Pilbara pastoral strike anniversary remembered

Indigenous people in Western Australia's north-west are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Pilbara pastoral strike.

Aboriginal pastoral workers walked off stations on May 1, 1946, demanding wages and better conditions.

Fran Heintz from the Wanga Maya Aboriginal Language Centre says the event had a massive impact on Indigenous workers.

"It's been a fairly significant event for the region and in many ways we believe it's a significant national event," he said.

"Some people actually call it the black Eureka. It did set what's been in place now for 60 years and that is the equal respect.

"Those workers were as good as workers if not better than anybody else and they should have been equally payed. It's a major event and it really has changed the way people have lived."

listen to Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod

Solidarity: a necessity for our times

Only by organising the new workforce across companies and national borders can we win social justice and equality

Solidarity may be an unfashionable virtue today, but it is the best - and often the only - defence most people have in a world dominated by big money, growing inequality and unrestrained profit-making. May Day has, for over a century, been the day working people have proclaimed their common interests across industries and countries. Its message of the necessity for solidarity is even more decisive than in the past.

In recent months, millions have shown they want a different world of greater justice, democracy and equality: in Latin America, the global anti-war movement, and the French workers who defeated the recent attempt to slash labour protection. That world is the ultimate purpose of the union freedom we are demanding today.

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