Friday, October 27, 2006

42 steps to serfdom: What Price Security?

In their newly published short book What Price Security?, legal academics Andrew Lynch and George Williams point out that federal parliament has passed 37 laws dealing with terrorism during the past five years, an average of one every seven weeks. Another five pieces of legislation have been introduced. It is not, they argue, that new laws were not warranted but that we have overreacted.

Robert Menzies said as prime minister when introducing national security legislation in 1939: "The greatest tragedy that could overcome a country would be for it to fight a successful war in defence of liberty and to lose its own liberty in the process." As the book points out, Menzies ignored his own warning when, after the war, he introduced legislation banning the Communist Party and associations with it, though he was stymied by the High Court and a referendum. The anti-terror laws, argue Lynch and Williams, strongly echo that legislation.

They detail how ASIO's power to detain people is more extensive than that given to similar organisations in Britain, Canada and the US. Only in Australia can non-suspects be held in secret by an intelligence agency. Organisations can be banned not only for planning a terrorist act but for advocating one and people can be jailed for associating with such a body, even though they may disagree with what it says. The authors point out that control orders and preventive detention are a significant departure from accepted legal principles, such as not detaining people without trial or restricting their liberty without a criminal conviction.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Union win on minimum wage

The ACTU wanted $30 a week for about one-and-a-half million workers who rely on award pay rates.

The major employer groups wanted something in the region of $12 to $14.

The Fair Pay Commission delivered $27.36 a week, for workers earning a weekly wage of up to $700, just shy of the ACTU claim. It granted a rise of $22.04 to workers above this level and that equals a sizeable pay rise well above inflation for workers on the Federal Minimum Wage.

The unanimous decision by the commission is broadly in line with previous AIRC decisions on minimum pay and has angered the big employer lobbies.

The decision shows once again that the Howard government is becoming scared that it's draconian IR laws will see it booted out at the next election.

The coalition has discovered that the IR laws and the job insecurity they produce has made them unelectable at State level. They now fear the same voter backlash will hit them federally with only a year to go before the election.

Howard gave his game away when he described the decision of his hand picked commission as "a work of genious". Clear the decks, here comes an election!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

November 30: Take action all around Australia.

New Lapstone Hotel
15 Great Western Hwy, Blaxland

Katoomba RSL All Services Club
86 Lurline Street, Katoomba

Lithgow & District Workmen's Club
Tank Street, Lithgow

The Royal Hotel
Macquarie Road, Springwood

There will be rallies in all capital cities in Australia on Thursday November 30, and in scores of regional centres.

Stay tuned to the Rights at Work website for venue and time details!

Almost a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Australians took to the streets and filled community venues to show their disgust for the Howard Government’s legislation.
Ignoring popular opinion, the Government used its Senate majority to ram the laws through parliament.

Since the IR laws came in, wages have gone down while costs like interest rates and petrol keep climbing up. At the same time our job security has been undermined by the new IR laws, which attack the pay and conditions we all rely on.

As we count down to the next election, let's show the Government that we will never forget the human impact of their radical laws. and let's show both sides of politics that Australians will fight for our rights at work.

Howards culture war: next it's SBS

Howard loyalists are set to launch a scathing attack on multicultural broadcaster SBS and force it to answer accusations of blatant left-wing bias.

Influential Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson will lead the assault on SBS and its executives at a special Senate estimates hearing next week.

Senator Ronaldson, a key player in the Howard Government's long campaign against perceived political bias at the ABC, told The Sunday Age that SBS was "out of control" and needed to be reined in. "I am very concerned about SBS's impartiality and balance."


Friday, October 20, 2006

Forum: Leave Your Human Rights at the Door

The workplace in Howard's Australia
  • 6 pm Wednesday 1 November 2006
  • NSW Teachers Federation Auditorium
  • 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills
A Forum jointly hosted by the NSW Teachers Federation, NSW Branch of the CFMEU (Construction & General Division) and The Greens NSW

  • John Robertson: Unions NSW Secretary
  • Bernadette Peters: Partner of one of the 107 WA workers being prosecuted
  • Andrew Ferguson: NSW CFMEU Secretary
  • Maree O'Halloran: NSW Teachers Federation President
  • Chris Harris: Greens Councillor City of Sydney
  • Julian Burnside: QC and Human Rights advocate (TBC)
Howard's workplace laws are a serious attack on civil liberties, as well as living standards. Special legislation has been introduced so government investigators can interrogate workers about union activities, without a right to silence.

Already 107 WA construction workers are being prosecuted. They face fines of $28,600 for defending their union delegate from victimisation.

Organised by:

Friday, October 13, 2006

Melbourne: Union Solidarity -- community unionism

We Stand Together!

Union Solidarity has only one reason to exist: to show no strings attached solidarity to unions and communities taking action in opposition to the Howard Government attacks on our rights. So far there are 8 local organisation covering the North, Northwest, West, South Eastern and Melbourne Central. More groups are being established all the time. The Melbourne Central group exists to resource the locals as they grow.

Helping unions and communities.
Each local is free to organise the appropriate response in their own area including.
  • Public Meetings to facilitate community concerns
  • Building new local branches across Melbourne suburbs and Victorian regions
  • Support unions taking action against wrongful dismissal in our neighbourhoods
  • Fundraising to keep the information flowing
  • Letterboxing in local areas
  • Building union and community local media profile
  • Providing resources such as food and shelter for picket lines
  • Acting as one link between communities, unions, Vic Trades Hall and the ACTU

Howard's Police State? Workers Lose Right to Choose Lawyers

The Federal Court has ruled a federal government agency has the power to prevent a worker it is interrogating from being represented by a lawyer of his choice.

CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary Dave Noonan said the decision showed how extreme the Howard Government's anti-building industry laws actually are.

"What the court has said is that a government official can deny a worker the basic right of choosing their own legal representative.

"The effect of this decision is that workers can be called before a secret hearing of Howard's hand-picked political appointees and forced to answer questions under the threat of six months jail - without a lawyer of their choice.

"This decision reinforces the repressive nature of these laws, which have been enacted with minimal public scrutiny or debate.

"These laws are bad for workers, bad for democracy and bad for the building industry, which has always thrived when employers and employees work together cooperatively," Mr Noonan said.


Iraq: The Killing Must Stop!

Around 655,000 people have died in Iraq as a result of the US-led coalition invasion, according to the largest scientific analysis yet. That is 2.5% of the country's entire population.

The study was conducted by US and Iraqi scientists to determine how many Iraqis have died since the invasion in March 2003.

Gilbert Burnham and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq, surveyed 1849 households with a total of 12,801 inhabitants, in all but two of the 18 governorates across Iraq. The researchers asked about births, deaths and cause of death. They did not discriminate between civilian and combatants.

The death rate before the invasion was a fairly normal 5.5 per thousand people per year. Since March 2003, that figure has averaged 13.2, the researchers found. More worrying, the death rate has risen every year since the invasion: this year reaching 19.8 per thousand people per year, a near-fourfold increase over pre-invasion levels.

New Scientist

Guardian Unlimited

Monday, October 09, 2006

G-G blasts citizen tests

Former governor-general Sir William Deane has joined the attack on plans for citizenship tests based on Australian culture and values.

He said national values and principles should be discussed, but said they should not form the basis of citizenship tests.

And Australia's multicultural society should be seen as the nation's "greatest achievement", not "damned with lip-service while undermining the mutual respect which lies at its heart".

Sir William opened the National Civil Society Dialogue in Canberra yesterday, on the theme "What kind of Australia do we want?". He said there should be considerable public discussion on the identity and importance of national values, principles and characteristics in Australia. But the values should not be used for tests, such as the citizenship tests the federal Government has been considering for immigrants.

"There are values and principles of great importance, not so much for framing tests of exclusion from our society, but for defining and informing the standards and as reference points for the policies and actions of those within our society," he said.


Ruddock erodes rule of law

The NSW Law Society is disappointed by the comments made by the Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock MP which draw an inappropriate comparison between two distinctly different cases.

President of the Law Society June McPhie said the comments were entirely unnecessary and displayed an apparent lack of understanding of fundamental principles of the criminal justice system and the rule of law.

“David Hicks has committed no crime under Australian law and no lawful charges have ever been made against him in spite of being held in detention for nearly five years.

“The criminals to whom he has been compared were detained after being denied bail on serious gang rape charges. Unlike them, Hicks has been denied the opportunity to even apply for bail.

“The Law Society strongly agrees with the views of Major Mori that drawing comparisons between Hicks and gang rapists is a complete misrepresentation of Hicks’ circumstances.

“In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the military commission process was fundamentally flawed and failed to contain important safeguards critical to the conduct of a fair and proper trial.

“Hicks is being detained under a system which contravenes the fundamental principles of the rule law and denies him the opportunity to seek his liberty through a court. If he had been charged in Australia, he would have had the opportunity to apply for bail."


WorkChoices: won't work and no choices

Legal academic Ron McCallum predicted the laws would be replaced as employers, workers and unions struggle with "a huge wall of law" running to 1700 pages.

"It is this very legal edifice which carries some of the seeds of its destruction," he told the NSW Law Society.

The dean of law and professor of industrial law at the University of Sydney said employers would resent being told what they could and could not include in workplace agreements, under new "prohibited content" rules.

"Employers will sidestep the laws and make their own private arrangements," he said.

"When laws are overly prescriptive, people usually bypass them in one form or another," he said.

Professor McCallum predicted the Howard Government would be engulfed by legal battles because its workplace laws had failed to consider international conventions on freedom of association signed by Australia in 1973.

A number of provisions were hurriedly drafted and likely to be declared invalid, he warned.

American employers would rightfully regard a list of prohibited bargaining matters imposed in Australia as a gross interference with their liberty to contract, he said.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews' spokesman said: "It's well-known that Ron McCallum is more comfortable in the company of the IR Club of the 1970s and 1980s, and we'd be staggered if he said anything different."

Howard takes up teaching!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Building workers face fines for defending workmate

Workers faced with fines of up to $28,600, possible jail sentences, no right to silence, secret police investigations and a ban on industrial action. This is not life in a third world dictatorship, but the daily life of Australian building workers in John Howard’s Australia.

In August, 107 building workers faced court for the first time. They face fines for allegedly taking industrial action in February this year to defend a sacked workmate. The case came as the result of two years of safety disputes on the Mandurah Rail Project in Perth. The builder repeatedly cut corners with safety and demanded excessive of hours of work. A union safety audit uncovered 80 breaches of safety laws, but nothing was done.

On February 24 safety delegate Peter Ballard was sacked because of his vocal complaints following a series of workplace accidents. Fellow workers took action to demand his reinstatement.

While the case was resolved and work resumed, the Government’s enforcers, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, decided to prosecute 107 of the workers who now face penalties of $28,600 each.

The draconian law they allegedly breached, the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, was quietly passed last year. It meant workers questioned by the ABCC have fewer rights than murderers or rapists. There is no right to silence and not answering a question could land you in jail for up to 6 months. Any meeting not authorised in writing by all employers on site is illegal. Workers who take part can be fined.

The case will restart on November 1. Meanwhile the workers are seeking to build a united national fight against these unjust laws.

What you can do to help:

•           Attend the Penrith Community Meeting and help get rid of these unjust and unfair laws.

•           Send a protest email to the government:

•           Enrol to vote and get rid of these laws at the next election:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Costello dives again

Prime Minister-in-waiting, Peter Costello suits up for a mission that will prove his worth to the Liberal Party of Australia... and the Victorian Volunteer Coastal Patrol.


City tanks solution to wasted run-off

Melbourne's CBD buildings could collect 4.2 billion litres a year in rainwater if tanks were installed across the city.

With an estimated roof space of 8.5 million square metres, the CBD grid could harvest enough rainwater to fill 16 billion drinking glasses or 83,000 backyard swimming pools each year, according to calculations by environmental consultant Eric Noel.

Mr Noel's figures increased pressure on the State Government to force commercial developers to meet the same environmental standards as new residential homes. It is compulsory for new residential buildings to acquire a five-star green rating but the rule does not apply to commercial premises.

Environment Minister John Thwaites' spokesman said four-star ratings to new large commercial developments would be rolled out but he did not give a time frame.

And smaller commercial buildings, under 5000 square metres, only require a 3.5 star rating.

"Sceptics will come to you and say it is costly, Mr Noel said.

"We need to develop a will and behaviour change that says we cannot afford to have this water pouring down into our streets."


The Fox and the Subbies

With new laws looming for “independent contractors”, Foxtel subbies have had the carpet pulled from under their feet, writes Nathan Brown.

In 2003, Max Catania, a Foxtel installer was called in to "renegotiate" his contract with Siemens Thiess.

The offer on the table was the same for all techs - instead of being paid $43.93 per job, they would get $35.

Catania could not believe his eyes. He had been doing it tough since being retrenched by Telstra and having to become a contractor.

As part of cost-cutting during the 1990s, Telstra had sacked all its Foxtel installers, who were taken on as subcontractors by companies contracted to do their old work.

As a subbie, Catania found himself paying for his own workers' compensation, public liability insurance, petrol and equipment. Sick leave and annual leave had disappeared.

Now Telstra was demanding cheaper rates from its contractors and they were responding by slashing the earnings of subcontractors.

Catania estimated Siemens Thiess's offer would cut his income by $540 a week.

"We had to decide there and then, accept the contracts and accept the rates," Catania said. "There's always the threat of do it or you don't get any work."

But Catania was not alone. Other subbies were equally outraged.

"We were dying as individuals, it was just one person against these multinational companies," Catania said.

They took their anger to the union. Many had previously been members of the CEPU and now they felt they had no one else to turn to.

Through word of mouth, subcontractors were organised into taking a stand against the rate cut.

In NSW and Victoria, almost 200 subbies went on strike. They used their vans - which they were forced to buy when Telstra dumped them- to mount blockades against the telco.

Catania was amazed by the willingness of the subbies to band together.

"These companies put in a lot of effort making sure we can't contact anyone. They never have meetings where everyone is involved, and they divide us into teams and make sure one team never meets up with another team," he said.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Howard government "cash for comment" in higher education

When Brendan Nelson got a complaint from a constituent about the absence of right-wing views in a reading list for a history subject at Macquarie University, the Minister (for Defence, not Education) passed the complaint on to the University's vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz with an added handwritten ministerial note: "I am very concerned about this and I would appreciate your personal attention to these issues, which I find disturbing."

Over at The University of Melbourne meanwhile, the tune has a similiar sound. There, the piper -- Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis -- has been instructed by the government to remove three books on terrorism from the university library. To which the piper has replied that removing the books restricted legitimate research.

Australian Values: Ruddock's tortured view

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says the use of sleep deprivation to gain intelligence from terror suspects should not be considered torture.

Mr Ruddock's comments follow the passing of new laws in the United States that ban torture but allow interrogators to use aggressive interrogation techniques against terror suspects - including sleep deprivation.

Labor legal affairs spokeswoman Nicola Roxon says Mr Ruddock's comments could put Australia on a path towards using torture.

"It was an alarmist statement, as Mr Ruddock often likes to be, surely one of the values we do want to promote is humane treatment of all people, surely we can't afford to give that up or we have lost what we are actually fighting for."

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said the use of sleep deprivation was torture.

"Using ghetto blasters and extreme cold and light to keep prisoners awake for days on end is part of new torture techniques aimed to scar the mind but not the body," Senator Brown said.

"Philip Ruddock is dumping long-held Australian values."

Australian Values: Howard's record

After winning a Senate majority in the 2004 election, Howard announced that he would "be modest, even humble" in using his numbers. The track record since the government took control of the Senate in July 2005 tells a very different story.
  • The workload of the references committees has halved
  • Reference to the AWB scandle in Iraq: refused
  • Reference to aviation security: refused
  • Reference to cross-media ownership laws: refused
  • Workplace relations laws: forced through in record time
  • Terrorism laws: forced through in record time
Since July 2005, less than 1% of legislative changes proposed by the opposition and minor parties have been passed by the Senate, compared to 40% during the same period before the government gained Senate control.

Debate in the Senate has also been stifled with increased guillotine use. Even questions about the AWB scandle at Senate esimate hearing have been banned.

The government's attack on the Senate committee system come at a time when challenges like terrorism means decisions are increasingly made in secret and away from normal scrutiny. Such is the nature of Howard's "Australian Values" and of course his commitment to telling the truth!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Teachers May Remain Seated and Silent During 'Kimigayo' Anthem

The Tokyo District Court ruled on Sept. 21 that the Tokyo board of education's directive forcing teachers to stand for the Hinomaru flag and to sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem was both unconstitutional and illegal.

Hinomaru was legally defined as Japan's national flag, and "Kimigayo" the national anthem, in 1999.

In October 2003, the Tokyo board of education issued a notice ordering public school teachers to stand and sing the anthem at school ceremonies, such as graduations. Teachers who failed to do so would be disciplined.

But the Tokyo District Court said that forcing all teachers to stand, sing or play the song's piano accompaniment infringed on their freedom of thought and conscience.

Presiding Judge Koichi Nanba said that teachers are not obligated to follow the directive and should not face punishment for refusing.

The court also ordered the Tokyo board of education to pay the 401 plaintiffs ¥30,000 each as compensation for the mental anguish they experienced.

The ruling was the first clearly recognizing that forcing teachers to stand for the flag and to sing the anthem violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of thought and conscience.


AMWU: Radio ads

Temporary Skilled Migration Radio Ads

Click on the links to hear the AMWU's radio ads about the damaging affects of the federal government's exploitative temporary skilled migration visas.

Temporary Skilled Migration Radio Ad

Temorporary Workers on Low Wages Radio Ad

Lost Apprenticeships Radio Ad