Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Telstra: Howard's crossed wires

What was that about the Howard Government being a great economic manager? It has stuffed up the sale of Telstra from the beginning and there's probably more disarray and disaffection to come. The root cause of its mismanagement of the telco is clear: its obsession with privatisation for its own sake.

It's a mistake to imagine that Sol Trujillo and his amigos are a bunch of crazy Yanks who just don't understand the way the game works in Australia.

Equally, though Telstra's share price has fallen by about a third in the year or so that Trujillo has been in charge, it's a mistake to imagine he's been deliberately talking the share price down.

Trujillo has been doing just what he did as an American telco executive: whatever it takes to extract from the government and its regulators the best possible deal for his company. That's precisely why Telstra's board hired him. It has been doing just what Telstra has always done: fighting to protect its monopoly privileges.


Unionists rally in solidarity

Tuesday 29th August 2006 6:30 pm EST

The ABCC's prosecution of 107 workers for alleged unlawful strike action will return to the Federal Court for further directions on October 18, after Justice Robert Nicholson held a preliminary hearing in Perth today.

Defendants and their supporters overflowed from the court room and into the waiting area this morning as the hearing of Hadgkiss v Aldin & Ors began at 10am Perth time.

The defendants are required to lodge their defences by Wednesday, November 1.

Only 75 of the 107 workers who allegedly took unlawful industrial action have been served with writs so far, according to the ABCC. The union, however, says 74 have been served. Some 73 are represented by solicitor Jeremy Noble, while barrister Kevin Bonomelli appeared for them in court today. One individual is self-represented.

Unions this morning marched and rallied in Perth before the hearing, with ACTU president Sharan Burrow and other senior union officials and state and federal ALP figures addressing hundreds of people at the Perth Concert Hall.

In Melbourne, hundreds rallied outside the Federal Court at lunchtime, where they were addressed by ACTU secretary Greg Combet, VTHC secretary Brian Boyd, CFMEU Victorian branch secretary Martin Kingham and AMWU Victorian branch secretary Dave Oliver. Combet reiterated that the 107 had the full support of unions.

In Sydney, some 500 people rallied at Trades Hall where they heard speeches by Unions NSW secretary John Robertson and CFMEU construction division national secretary John Sutton, before binding 107 of their number together with chains before marching on the ABCC's premises at 133-145 Castlereagh St.

Other rallies were held in Adelaide, Canberra and Wollongong.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Gunns' thrown out of court

Justice Bernard Bongiorno has rejected Gunns’ third statement of claim in its entirety. The company has been given until 19 October to tell the court if it will try to introduce another statement of claim.

In the Victorian Supreme Court, Justice Bongiorno said that the statement of claim 'cannot be allowed to stand in its present form’. Its size and complexity places an unreasonable burden and enormous cost on individual defendants.

Defendants cautiously welcomed the decision, but pointed out the unfairness of the process. Nearly two years on, after huge expense and anxiety, the case is no further advanced and Gunns still has the option to make a fourth statement of claim.

Justice Bongiorno said the company referred to an overarching conspiracy against Gunns, but resorted to using "weasel words" like "campaigner", "coordinator" and "protest activities" that didn't specifically allege anything.

In his judgement he said that "it's fundamental to the proper conduct of civil litigation that defendants are entitled to know the case against them with precision".

Outside court, Greens Senator Bob Brown welcomed the decision. "This has been a huge burden on people who should never have been treated this way by Gunns, which meantime is continuing to not only destroy the ancient forests and wildlife which ought to be protected forever for this nation, but with a pulp mill in line, flag their intention to continue the enormous injustice of destroying Tasmania's, Australia's prime forests and wildlife for decades to come."

Support the 107

Friday, August 25, 2006

Letter to the editor: Jackie Kelly not above law

Liberal MP Jackie Kelly has taken political spin into overdrive in an attempt to justify her husband's refusal to obey workplace safety laws and his violent attack on a union safety officer who exposed the breaches. ("Don't bully my spouse", Sun Herald 20/8/06)

While she makes no mention of her husband's unprovoked tirade of abusive language and his violent assault, she accuses the 64 year old union safety inspector of "bullying".

Ms Kelly also failed to explain why her family should be able to refuse to install scaffold or rectify a dozen safety breaches on the multi-million dollar mansion they are building, despite every other Australian builder being required to.

Jackie Kelly and her family are not above the law. While we the people pay her generous salary, she and her husband have an obligation to provide a safe workplace as required by law, and not to use violence, threats or public smears to avoid safety laws.

Jackie Kelly must learn that safety should always be a priority and that putting a workers' live at risk to save money is never acceptable.

Andrew Ferguson
CFMEU NSW Secretary
12 Railway St, Lidcombe NSW 2141
(02) 9749 0404 - 0412 511 994

Keep Telstra, sack Howard!

August 13 Illustration: Bruce Petty

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fixing the WorkChoices Mess

In an era of free market extremism, the state systems form a buffer, not just for the workers they protect, but for the ideas behind them. As WorkChoices strip back rights and conditions, the NSW IRC is delivering minimum wage increases, maintaining harmonious work relations and enforcing its legislative mandate to put fairness in to the workplace.

As State Labor Government's around the nation are discovering, these systems are one of their strongest assets in laying out their credentials to govern.

Cashing these in for a shot at running the national economy is a big gamble. Yes, you may gain power for a few terms, but then the pendulum swings back to the Tories the entire population will be at their mercy. Why would unions prefer hedging on the state systems where they have had far more electoral success?

Think of some of the recent advances from workplace surveillance protection to gender pay equity - devised in NSW, trialled here, then refined and adapted in the other states. Conversely, conversion of casual employment to secure work has been won at a federal level and then applied by state jurisdictions. The advances have ebbed and flowed between systems, but they have all been in a positive direction.

In this context it is easy to see why big business wants to see an end to the state systems where workers rights have been seeded and nurtured. Understanding the union movement's readiness to give them away is harder to fathom.


Queensland election: don't mention Howard's IR laws

The Queensland Coalition asks the federal government not to help in the upcoming state election and not to draw attention to IR laws!

Australian Workers Union (AWU) leader Bill Shorten helped launch the Queensland election campaign at the St Lucia Bowls Club.

Mr Shorten said the people voting in the Queensland election were already struggling with the new IR laws, although obviously the campaign would be fought on state issues.

"There's a whole lot of Queensland issues - strong leadership, you've got a strong economy, and a Coalition that can't govern itself, and I do see that the Howard Government's unfair industrial relations changes have undermined families."


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Howard: rewrite history or lose funding!

States have been warned they risk losing $33 billion over four years in federal funding for schools unless they rewrite the way they teach history.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has stepped up pressure on the states after the Commonwealth-convened history summit in Canberra this week.

The assembled "experts" were scathing in their criticisms of existing courses and recommended Australian history be taught sequentially through primary and early secondary school, and be a stand-alone subject in Year 9 and Year 10.

August 19Illustration: Bruce Petty

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Something rotten in Mexico and smells like Florida

There's something rotten in Mexico. And it smells like Florida. The ruling party, the Washington-friendly National Action Party (Pan), proclaimed yesterday their victory in the presidential race, albeit tortilla thin, was Mexico's first "clean" election. But that requires we close our eyes to some very dodgy doings in the vote count that are far too reminiscent of the games played in Florida in 2000 by the Bush family. And indeed, evidence suggests that Team Bush had a hand in what may be another presidential election heist.


Friday, August 18, 2006

189 Ajax Workers Occupy Factory

189 employees of auto component manufacturer Ajax Fasteners in Melbourne's Eastern Suburbs were stood down at 7 am this morning by the company's Administrators Price Waterhouse Coopers.

The action came after the Administrators failed to finalise rescue package with Ajax's customers which is predominately the automotive manufacturing industry.

AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem said the workers have voted unanimously to occupy the Factory until a rescue package guaranteeing the workers' entitlements can be put together.

Mr. Melhem said the action taken by the Administrators will be a disaster for Australia's major car manufacturers who may have to cease production as early as this afternoon.

"The actions of the Administrators and the major car manufacturers was a kick in the guts to the 189 workers at Ajax who are without any income from today onwards" Mr. Melhem said.

"The effect of the Automotive industry as a whole will be massive over the coming days and I would like to know if the Federal Government will be taking action to put a halt to this crisis."


US evolution close to Turkey

Thursday, August 17, 2006

NT Land Rights gutted: Howard's disgrace

In the week of the 40th aniversary of the Wave Hill walk off, in Canberra today (16 August 2006), the Senate passed a new law that that could see Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory forced to hand over control of their land for 99 years.

The changes to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act give more power to the Minister at the expense of traditional owners and the Land Councils that serve them.

More than 28 thousand Australians signed an online petition organized by Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) and online campaigning organization, GetUp to oppose the changes.

The changes were also opposed by the Northern and Central Land Councils, traditional owners including Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, organisations including Oxfam as well as Labor, the Democrats and Greens.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Relaxed and comfortable: affordability of housing dives

Houses are becoming increasingly out of reach to homebuyers, with another fall in affordability across the nation sparking calls for the states to urgently release land for new homes.

Across Australia, affordability for first-time homebuyers fell 5.3 per cent during the June quarter, leaving them 6.1 per cent worse off since Christmas.

Homebuyers will also have to commit 27.9 per cent of their income to mortgage repayments, which now average more than $2000 a month for the first time.

Affordability fell in all capital cities as well as regional areas of NSW, Queensland and South Australia.

"With every likelihood that affordability will decline further in coming quarters, the need for an urgent and radical rethink on new housing supply has never been greater," Housing Industry Association economist Simon Tennent warned.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lufthansa campaign heats up

It's been 4 weeks since LabourStart launched our online campaign in support of Lufthansa call centre workers in Melbourne, Australia -- workers who are among the first victims of the new anti-union laws brought in by the Howard government.

Over the course of those weeks, over 4,000 have sent off messages of protest to Lufthansa subsidiary Global Tele Sales (GTS). And the Workplace Rights Advocate has now slammed GTS for its attempt to force workers to accept pay cuts and other attacks on benefits and working conditions.

With a big push now, we can force GTS to back down -- but this means that everyone reading this message has to send off a protest and tell others in your union to do the same.

Please click here now:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Captain Clean to the rescue!

Tenants at 1 Spring Street in central Melbourne are expected to empty their own bins, say their overworked cleaners.

Hundreds of cleaners and their supporters will rally at Federation Square and then march on the 32-storey office tower to protest at bad practices by cleaning contractor, Australian Facilities Management (AFM).


Galloway out-foxes sky!

Watch as George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow takes on the Murdoch Sky News style of embedded journalism


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

CEPU: Government Paralysis Threatens Broadband Future

CEPU Communications Division logoThe Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) warned that the breakdown of talks between Telstra and the ACCC over access pricing threatened $4 billion in infrastructure investment and millions more in training expenditure.

"We are already falling behind other developed countries when it comes to high speed communications services," Colin Cooper, from the CEPU's communications division said.

"We have a national fixed telecommunications network which urgently needs upgrading, as Telstra has itself at last admitted.

"And we have a communications workforce which needs to be skilled up to operate the next generation of communications infrastructure."

Mr Cooper said it was the government's responsibility to set the right policy and regulatory settings for these things to happen.

"They are sitting on their hands while the only realistic plan for a fixed network upgrade turns to ashes in front of them," he said.

"Meanwhile, they tinker at the policy edges with programmes which are designed to keep the Nationals happy but which don't offer a comprehensive national solution for this country's broadband needs."


Support the 107!


Monday, August 07, 2006

Darling Harbour East: The Hungry Mile

Unions NSW is backing an MUA push to have Darling Harbour East renamed in honour of thousands of waterfront workers. It is urging unions and supporters to petition the state government to adopt the longtime maritime monicker, the Hungry Mile.

Naming submissions need to be filed with Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, by this Friday.

To make submission on names for East Darling Harbour go to:

The Hungry Mile would celebrate two centuries of maritime labour in the precinct where as many as 24,000 people were employed, prior to the advent of containerisation. The Hungry Mile has inspired film, verse, song and rebellion. It is the only name for the area that comes from the people who lived and worked their for generations.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lawson: screening SuperSizeMyPay 20 August

Resistance, Green Left Weekly and the Blue Mountains Socialist Alliance are proud to be screening SuperSizeMyPay, Art Resistance TV's most recent documentary.

SuperSizeMyPay -
Sunday, August 20, 2pm,
Mid Mountains Community Centre, Lawson

This film shows how young workers in New Zealand -- many of whom are also high school students -- are taking on multinational fast-food corporations to win better wages and conditions.

Since last November UNITE has been leading strikes in major fast-food chains including KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Wendys & Pizza Hut. The campaign is called SupersizeMyPay. This documentary is relevant in Australia as young workers are subject to extreme workplace exploitation under the Howard government's WorkChoices regime

Hiroshima Day Rally: Sydney

No More Hiroshimas - Hiroshima Day Rally

No Nuclear Weapons, No War in the Middle East, No Nuclear Industry in Australia

Sunday August 6, 1pm, Hyde Park North

Speakers include: Sue Wareham, Richard Broinowski, Keysar Trad


Death in Lebanon ... and Iraq

Events in Lebanon are terrible. Hundreds of innocent civilians are dead. The daily media images are horrific. It's time for the US government to use its muscle to enforce a ceasefire.

Agreed. But in another corner of the Middle East the US is using its muscle – with these results:
January: 1,778 civilian deaths
February: 2,165 civilian deaths
March: 2,378 civilian deaths
April: 2,284 civilian deaths
May: 2,669 civilian deaths
June: 3,149 civilian deaths
Thousands of civilian deaths every month – 14,423 in the first half of the year – according to United Nations figures.

If Lebanon is bad, Iraq is a hundred times worse. Literally.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Howard's kango court

Federal Government’s Building Industry Commission has dragged 29 Australians before it, on pain of gaol, in the first nine months since it was given sweeping coercive powers.

And the Commission has revealed its "compliance powers" are being wielded by a former federal policeman who was accused of routinely using illegal communications intercepts.

Nigel Hadgkiss has had a dream run of federal appointments since being fingered in evidence to the NSW Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, in 2003.

Former undercover detective, Michael Kennedy, told the committee Hadgkiss had used covert recordings to fit him up for falsely accusing Joint Drugs Task Force members of corruption. Years later, Kennedy said, Hadgkiss had taken credit for unmasking the same people.

Kennedy said he had lodged formal complaints about the "criminal and illegal activities of Hadgkiss" and others.

When the Howard Government began its anti-building worker campaign it appointed Hadgkiss to head-up an interim taskforce.


Stop Howard's land grab!

Right now the Government wants to pass a Bill to pressure Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory into giving up their land for the next century, in exchange for securing basic services (such as housing and schools).

Unlike the first NT Land Rights Act, which was an iconic piece of legislation passed with broad consensus and bi-partisan support, this Bill in its current form is opposed by all Opposition parties, and lacks the support of indigenous peoples themselves.

Even the Government’s own senators are concerned about the lack of debate: three hours of discussion in the House and a one-day Senate inquiry is not nearly enough time to consider legislation that will affect indigenous Australians for generations.

Tell your Coalition senator that future generations of indigenous Australians should not have to pay for their unseemly haste.

Take urgent action now!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Howard's debt bomb

Australian household debt grew by more than $100 billion in the past year, despite a softer housing market and rising interest rates. Which means it has almost doubled since 2001.

"People borrow more when they feel safe and secure, and that is the reason why many people have gone heavily into debt", says the Prime Minister, although he also adds that "I would take the opportunity of counselling people not to go too heavily into debt." But just as the PM has sought to play down his influence over petrol prices and interest rates, he's seeking to distance himself from this debt bomb.

Howard kills manufacturing

Foreign debt that is now equal to more than 50 per cent of GDP and, in proportion to the economy, almost twice as big as the foreign debt of the United States. The reason? The foreign debt is the elephant that is now so large that it can't be removed from the room without wrecking the house.

The Government cannot acknowledge the extent to which economic growth over the past decade has been financed by foreign debt, or why the debt has been used to finance a real estate and share price bubble rather than new export and import replacement industries that could repay it.

Recognition of the problem would require the admission that it is the Government's fault that interest rates are rising because foreign lenders are demanding bigger and bigger risk premiums to finance the debt.

There is no understanding of the need for an industry policy to rescue what's left of manufacturing and to try to correct, even at this late stage, the external imbalance. The OECD brief says: "It is important that any policy response to consequential structural adjustment occurs with minimal disruption rather than seeking to prevent adjustment."

This can be taken to mean that the only Australian manufacturing industry left that is of any consequence (vehicles) as a result of the over-valued exchange rate (due to high interest rates and the commodity price boom) will be allowed to go to the wall rather than receive assistance.


Destroying a city

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Disproportionate acts

July 19Illustration: Bruce Petty

Guantanamo detainees may remain indefinitely

The US government could hold foreign "enemy combatants" indefinitely at sites like Guantanamo Bay, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says.

But Gonzales said today the administration would propose trying enemy combatants based on military court martial procedures, with a number of key changes.

Those include admitting hearsay evidence, limiting rights against self-incrimination before a trial, and limiting defendants' access to classified information.

Evidence obtained under duress would also be allowed, unless a military judge considers it unreliable, he said.

"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," Gonzales told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said.


ACOSS: boost the minimum wage

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) wants the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) to recognise that low-paid workers are struggling with rising costs and need more assistance.

"ACOSS is concerned that jobless households and low-paid households are under strain with rising living costs and relatively low wages," ACOSS executive director Andrew Johnson said in a statement.

"Taking into account inflation, the minimum wage is at the same level as it was in 1989.

"The AFPC should boost the minimum wage to benefit low paid and jobless families in Australia."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ruddock in cash for comment scandal

No Federal Government money is going to this year's conference of National Community Legal Centres because the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, does not like the tone of the program.

His office told conference organisers late last week it was "inappropriate for Australian Government funds to be directed to the support of campaigns against legislation enacted by the Parliament of Australia".

The second day of the conference is the problem, with the president of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, guest speaker and plans to focus on "campaigning areas" of "welfare to work, family law reform, IR reform, indigenous justice and security (anti-terrorism)".

Mr Ruddock sees this as a "blatant politicisation of community legal centres". He said his decision was not about curtailing freedom of speech. "The issue is subsidising people to go and listen to a political campaign."

Baffled organisers see nothing particularly new in the rhetoric in this year's brochure or choice of speakers. "There are no big changes," said the association's national convenor, Liz O'Brien.

She said campaigns for law reforms had always been on conference programs. "To act in the best interest of our clients may sometimes lead us to propose changes where government legislation impacts adversely on disadvantaged Australians."

She also rejected the Attorney-General's claim the conference would be stirring a political campaign against government policy. "The term 'campaign around law reform and legal policy' is something used throughout the profession. It is to say that one of the duties to our clients in our society is to keep decision-makers fully informed of the implications of their decisions."


IR Laws Are Turning Off Workers And Business!

A new national survey by software company MYOB released today (Tuesday 1 August) has found that the Howard Government’s new IR laws are unfair for workers and bad for productivity.

The survey finds nearly three times as many (34%) small businesses believe that the laws will hurt productivity compared with only 12% that believe the laws will help.
Commenting on the MYOB survey today, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

"This latest survey shows that small businesses are worried about the impact of the Howard Government's IR laws on their own employees.

The survey finds two in five (40%) small businesses agree that the new IR laws are not fair to many employees and that 42% believe the new laws are unfair to low-skilled employees in particular.

Small businesses have traditionally been big supporters of the Howard Government, but this survey shows that many are now turning their backs on the new workplace laws.

The survey results dispel the Howard Government's mantra that the new IR laws are a boon to the economy and will create vast numbers of jobs.

The MYOB survey also comes after a recent report by leading economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel that says the new laws will do nothing to assist the growth of the Australian economy.