Monday, December 24, 2007

Unions good for economy

The Age December 23, 2007

The purpose of the Howard government's WorkChoices legislation was to destroy trade unions in the name of improving labour productivity and reducing unemployment.

WorkChoices was the biggest single factor in the demise of the Coalition government. It was electoral poison because most employees, including those who weren't members of unions and would never think about joining a union, recognised that the legislation could be used to undermine their terms and conditions of employment.

The right-wing putsch against the trade unions failed for much the same reasons as it failed in 1929, when the Bruce government lost the election on the issue of abolishing the Arbitration Court and Stanley Bruce, like John Howard, lost his seat.

It is an inconvenient truth that unionised work forces can contribute to labour productivity by driving up wages faster than non-unionised work forces and this provides a stimulus to innovation, as employers will be motivated to economise on the use of labour by capital substitution. Studies in the US have shown that unionised workers also promote productivity because strong unions foster a culture where workers are less inhibited about pointing out problems as they emerge on the shop floor because they feel the union will protect their employment security.

As US economist and author Robert Kuttner puts it, there are allocative efficiencies to be gained as labour markets become more like spot markets and pay scales are matched with marginal productivity. But there are major mechanisms such as stronger unions, fair trade, wage subsidies and social incomes and education and training that can combine equity with efficiency. The analogy is the old paradox that brakes allow the car to go faster, according to Kuttner.

Employees are less likely to point out management mistakes when they don't enjoy the protection of unions or unfair dismissal rules.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Haneef wins fight for visa

Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef has won his court battle to have his Australian work visa reinstated but the new Rudd Government may appeal it to the High Court.

The full bench of the Federal Court, sitting in Melbourne, today dismissed an appeal lodged by federal government lawyers against a judge's decision to reinstate Dr Haneef's visa.

The Federal Court decision, handed down by Chief Justice Michael Black in Melbourne, was another slap in the face for former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who had cancelled the former Gold Coast doctor's visa on character grounds.

Dr Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said his client had reservations about coming back to work as a doctor in Queensland.

His main aim was to clear his name, said Mr Russo.

"Firstly, to enable him to make that decision as to whether or not he will come back and secondly, for him to clear his name and get on with his life," he told ABC radio before today's decision was handed down.

"As time goes by I don't know whether that wish is as strong as it was when we started."

update ...

The secret information relied on by former immigration minister Kevin Andrews to cancel Mohamed Haneef's visa has been discarded by his Labor successor, Chris Evans, who found there was no basis to deny the Indian doctor entry to Australia.

Senator Evans said Dr Haneef was free to reclaim his work visa, adding cryptically that he had based his decision on the "latest federal police information".

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The NSW Government is planning to hand over the state's electricity to big business - taking power out of our hands.

The experience in other states and overseas shows us private ownership leads to:
  • higher prices
  • less reliable supply
  • key service jobs sent offshore
In NSW our electricity would be taken over by multinational companies who will be more interested in profits than making the best decisions for our energy future.

Don't hand over our electricity to big business.

The industry currently delivers billions of dollars in profits to the government to fund hospitals, schools and other public services and employs tens of thousands of workers across the state.

Steps must be taken now to secure NSW's energy future but privatising our power industry is not the way to go.

The State Government should instead upgrade its existing power stations to meet our short-term needs while taking urgent action to promote renewable energy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

AWAs: dismantling begins

The new Labor government will turn the resumption of Parliament into an immediate test of the Liberal Party's loyalty to Work Choices by making the abolition of the policy the first item of his legislative agenda.

Cabinet agreed yesterday to introduce transitional legislation in February that would outlaw new Australian Workplace Agreements and abolish the fairness test. "We believe this is an important step forward because so many working families have been adversely affected by the existing range of laws," said Kevin Rudd.

The Coalition, which will control the Senate until July 1, remains deeply split over whether to abandon all or any of the policy, which was a big factor in its election loss.

The former workplace relations minister, Joe Hockey, has declared Work Choices "dead", while his predecessor, Kevin Andrews, says the Coalition should stick by it. "Are we to say to these people [who voted Liberal] that what we believed was for the good of Australia is no longer the case," he wrote yesterday in a newspaper column.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard today urged employers not to draft new AWAs before the laws are changed, but conceded there was nothing the government could do to stop employers putting new workers on AWAs before the introduction of the new legislation.

"They are the Liberal party's laws, and the Liberal party's laws are in operation today,'' she told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

"I can't change the Liberal party's laws until parliament can be brought together and the bill dealt with by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.''

But Ms Gillard urged employers to act in good faith, and resist drafting new AWAs in compliance with the incoming legislation.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Mining: ready to tackle climate change

Australia's mining industry is well placed to take a leading role in tackling climate change, the mining union says.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has congratulated the government for its involvement in the recent climate change conference in Bali.

The union also welcomed the "strong support" Australian negotiators gave for developed countries to negotiate slashing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 per cent over the next decade.

"We do need deep cuts there's no doubt about that and now we can get on with the job of working out how to get there."


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Howard legacy: ABCC out of control

The bystander was a mild-mannered academic from the University of Melbourne. Passing a building site on the Yarra's south bank, he witnessed a confrontation between a union official and a building manager. No punches were thrown but the two men pushed each other and grabbed at each other's shirts.

But agents of the federal building industry watchdog soon tracked the witness down and hauled him in for several hours of secret questioning, under powers that rival those of Australia's national security services.

The man cannot be named and cannot discuss the details of his interrogation for fear of imprisonment. Building unions say the innocent citizen's experience proves the Australian Building and Construction Commission is out of control, wielding powers greater than the police and equal to those of anti-terrorism bodies such as ASIO.

A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed it was the first time a bystander, not connected with a building company or a union, has been subjected to these powers. The legislation gives the commission the authority to question people - with or without a lawyer present - and overrides the right to silence. Witnesses cannot reveal the contents of the interview, even to their spouses, and risk up to six months in jail if they breach the law.


see also
Constructing Fear

Friday, December 14, 2007

CFMEU: members oppose electricity sell off

Unions are opposed to plans to sell off electricity retailers and lease power generators to the private sector, saying the move puts hundreds of jobs in doubt.

Delegates representing 10,000 building workers from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) will vote today to support a campaign against privatisation.

Workers at three Hunter Valley power stations have also held stop-work meetings this week.

CFMEU secretary Andrew Ferguson says the issue is important for all members.

"Five-hundred members are threatened in our energy division," he said.

"They've raised the issue of the leadership of the energy division of the union and we act as one union, all our divisions.

"There's no secondary boycott at this point in time. We're simply expressing our support - we're opposing the plans of Treasurer Michael Costa."


USU: Stop the Sell Off

The Union Movement is strongly opposed to the Iemma Government's announcement to privatise the Electricity Industry.

The USU has, on every occasion that we have met with the Iemma Government, adamantly opposed any proposition that includes the sale of State Owned electricity assets. In every available forum the USU has made it quite clear that we do not condone the sale of retail, or the leasing of generators.

It is premature and offensive for the Iemma Government and your employer to announce transfer proposals for employees, when a debate on the Governments position is yet to occur. It appears the Government is attempting to gag debate in relation to their intention to sell off your jobs.

There will be a combined Unions Delegates meeting at Unions NSW Sydney on 19th December 2007; at the conclusion of the meeting the Unions will launch a public campaign and website in opposition to the Government's proposal.

All members should encourage non-members to join. With your support and the support of all other Union members from across the industry, we are confident that we can achieve the best possible outcome for the Energy Industry.

Let's keep Energy in the public hands.

The USU calls on all Trade Unionists (from all trade unions) and employees of all State-Owned electricity companies to fight for your jobs, because this is only the beginning of the sell-off.

Should you require further information, please call the USU Contact Centre on 1300 136 604.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

AMWU opposes Iemma's privatisation

AMWU NSW Secretary Paul Bastian said that the community had consistently opposed privatisation of public assets and infrastructure services.

“It’s difficult to understand why the Premier is pushing ahead with this when there is evidence to show that privatisation is an expensive failure for everyone except the private businesses that buy them.”

An emergency Caucus meeting of NSW Labor parliamentarians on Monday approved the Premier’s plan. Since that time all pretence at ‘negotiations’ with the affected unions have broken down in the face of the Treasurer Michael Costa’s provocative media statements and his refusal to give commitments on job security or conditions of employment for workers in the power industry.

Mr Bastian said the New South Wales Government tried and failed to privatise the power industry in 1997.

“It was a spectacular failure, but since that time, privatisation has always been on the radar.

“Morris Iemma’s State Labor Government didn’t seek a mandate to privatise power or any other NSW public asset. Privatisation was a point of major difference between the ALP and the Coalition during the State election campaign.

“Yet since winning a fourth term at the State election in March, it has been clear that the treasurer has made moves to do whatever necessary to privatise a range of state owned infrastructure and services.”

“While the Government claims it to be a sign of ‘economic responsibility’, we see it for what it is: an attempt to hide public debt which effectively results in the transfer of public wealth to private profit.”


Hunter Valley says no!

Newcastle Trades Hall secretary Gary Kennedy says he expects local unions to spearhead the campaign against power utilities privatisation because the Hunter region will be the hardest hit in terms of potential job losses.

Mr Kennedy says the strategy will focus on enlisting community support to try to overturn the decision, but industrial action by power industry workers is a strong possibility.

"I would not rule it out at all, "he said. "This debate was had and done in 1997, and here we are again with no opportunity to have that raised as an election issue."

"It has been dumped on us cold, straight after the election. People feel betrayed and exceptionally angry."

He says unions could run a campaign similar to the one run against the federal WorkChoices laws.

"We've got a lot of experience with the right-to-work campaign with regards to WorkChoices," he said.

"We have these groups that have been set up and organised. They're very angry, they feel betrayed."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Iemma private electricity blunder

Labor Premier Morris Iemma's support for privatisation of NSW's power stations is undoubtedly a backward move. This move is especially backward in the light of the needs to regulate power production on a State and National level to deal with the effects climate change. Even the US, the foremost advocate of privatisation, is having to reconsider that policy to deal with the mess that it has left them with. Maybe Iemma is just unaware of the new realities.

The New York Times last week reported that more than a decade after the drive began to convert electricity from a regulated industry into a competitive one, many states are rolling back their initiatives or returning money to individuals and businesses.

"The main reason behind the effort to return to a more regulated market is price" the paper said.

"Recent Energy Department data shows that the cost of power in states that embraced competition has risen faster than in states that had retained traditional rate regulation."

Of the 25 states, and the District of Columbia, that had adopted competition, only one, California, is even talking about expanding market pricing. In Ohio, politicians, utilities, their customers and consumer groups are negotiating how to end competitive electricity pricing, while Virginia has repealed its law.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Unions say thankyou

Across Australia working people voted against the IR laws. Australian unions would like to thank the millions of working people who voted to get back their rights at work.
"All Australians should honour the courage and fortitude of the many workers who stood up against the Coalition’s unfair WorkChoices IR laws and withstood the disgraceful attacks on them by the Howard Government," said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bernie Banton: State Funeral

Mr Banton passed away early this morning. The details for Bernie Banton’s funeral are as follows:

Wednesday, 5 December, 10.30 a.m.
ACER Arena,
Olympic Boulevarde,
Sydney Olympic Park

We will meet at the front of ACER Arena main entrance at 9.30 a.m.

There will be a union guard of honour after the service for Bernie. Once the service is completed there will be a designated area for union members and supporters to meet outside the arena. We will then be directed where to form up for the guard of honour.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to The Asbestos Diseases Research Fund, C/- Marketing Unit, Concord Hospital, Concord NSW 2139, or by direct deposit at any Westpac Bank BSB032 – 001, Account: 115359.

Anyone wishing to send cards to the family can do so by forwarding to: Mrs Karen Banton, C/- Unions NSW, Level 3, Trades Hall, 4 Goulburn Street, Sydney 2000.

Kelly's Bush activist: Betty James, 1918-2007

Betty James.Kelly's Bush, on the border of Hunters Hill and Woolwich and on the banks of the Parramatta River, was the first green ban in the world. Betty James, who has died at 89, was the inspiration behind the defence of the bushland against the developers and the NSW government. She became president of the Battlers for Kelly's Bush, a group of middle-age women who joined with trade unions led by left-wingers and communists to win a famous victory.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Julie Bishop: no asbestos apology

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has defended her efforts to deny compensation to workers at the Wittenoom mine in her role as a corporate lawyer in the 1980s.

In Australia's greatest single industrial disaster, an estimated 1000 people living and working near the West Australian mine have died from asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Ms Bishop, the federal Opposition's industrial relations spokeswoman, confirmed her role as an instructing solicitor for mine owner CSR in cases involving three asbestos victims who worked at the mine.

But she rejected a plea from the Asbestos Diseases Society to apologise for her actions. Ms Bishop said on Friday she commiserated with those affected, who included CSR executives, whom she had represented.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

WA: election analysis

The Age has analysed Australian Electoral Commission figures recording booth-by-booth results in north-western Australia, which show that even highly paid miners on AWAs swung strongly against the government in Saturday's election.

And in most mining towns, a majority voted for Labor in two-party preferred terms.

The figures show the 796 voters in mining town Newman swung almost 9% towards Labor, Port Hedland's 986 voters swung 10%, Dampier's 667 swung 4% and Karratha's 1358 swung more than 5% against the Liberal candidate, Barry Haase.

These iron ore mining towns are big beneficiaries of the minerals boom, and by far the majority of workers are employed on salaries of $100,000-plus under Australian Workplace Agreements.

Yet all these towns voted Labor, with an average two-party preferred vote of about 54%, higher than the national average.

In working class South Hedland's two polling places, the swing was much bigger, and 64% of the 1525 voters at the South Hedland Baler booth voted Labor.

Kalgoorlie also swung towards Labor, but the gold mining town overall remains a powerful Liberal stronghold, with up to 62% favouring the Liberals in one booth.

The figures show Mr Haase lost in the iron ore mining towns in the north of the state, but he survived a seat-wide swing of 4.72% towards Labor, with strong support from the rural south of his electorate.

The Howard government had argued that the 90,000 voters on AWAs in marginal seats would be a problem for Labor because they loved their individual employment agreements.

But West Australian ALP state secretary Bill Johnson said this was a myth.

Internal Labor research had shown households with one or more people employed on AWAs were more likely to vote Labor, he said.

"Miners are clearly happy to get a very high income … but it doesn't mean they have been won over by the psychology of the 19th-century master and servant relationship".


Ecology: cooperate or die!

The demise of the neo-con Liberals ushers in a new urgency.

Steve Biddulph in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests this scenario:

'What will be the new polarity in future elections? It's the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children's tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.

By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right - Labor and Green - and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade - superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won't be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.'


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Barry Hemsworth reinstated: Climate Change!

End of an era … Barry Hemsworth's vigil ends.

Barry Hemsworth, a crane driver for Botany Cranes in Banksmeadow, returns to work today after his solitary 441 day protest outside his former employer's gates.

On Tuesday afternoon, 72 hours after the polls closed in an election that brought Labor to power on a promise to abolish the Howard Government's Work Choices laws, the company told Mr Hemsworth he could have his job back.

"I had vowed to stay on the picket line, even if it was just me, until Howard went," he said.

Mr Hemsworth, a 35-year veteran of the construction industry, worked for the crane company - owned by Anne Bradstreet, the sister of former NSW Liberal politician Ted Pickering - for more than a decade.

Mr Hemsworth, a long-time representative of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, said the company had realised the unfair dismissal laws were about to change.

Under Work Choices, firms with fewer than 100 staff, such as Botany Cranes, were exempt from unfair dismissal laws.

The prime minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, has pledged to restore unfair dismissal rights to employees of small businesses who have been employed for more than a year.

Mr Hemsworth said he had enjoyed good relations with management until May last year, soon after Work Choices was enacted. "It had always been a great place to work and I had always praised the company," he said. "But then things turned sour. Management believed their authority was absolute."

Mr Hemsworth maintains he was dismissed for opposing inexperienced workers certifying the safety conditions on worksites.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rights at Work: historic campaign

Together we've waved goodbye to WorkChoices after a historic win.

As a memento of the campaign, we've produced some pewter-plated badges, with the Rights at Work logo and the slogan, "We made the difference."

We want to give one to each supporter as a mark of your achievement, so you can wear it with pride and hopefully, one day, show it to your kids and grandkids.

We also want to hear your feedback on the campaign. What did we all do well? What areas can we improve on? And most importantly, where should campaign go to now?

To share your feedback, please go to this secure online survey:

It takes less than five minutes to complete.

To order your badge, fill out the survey and make sure you include your postal address.

We can't wait to get your feedback and thoughts about the future of the campaign,

Many thanks
The Rights at Work campaign team

Monday, November 26, 2007

Diamonds Dust: School of Arts

Friday 30th November and Saturday December 1st 7.30
Wentworth Falls School of Arts

Diamond Dust is an Australian comedy about three very different women who are fired from their jobs working at the local jewellery store of a country town.

It is written by local playwright Jess Brown who was involved in the BM campaign for YR@W and who has just graduated from Charles Sturt University.

Diamond Dust combines witty, fast paced dialogue touched with surrealism and circus to create a humorous Australian play that is moving and magic.

Bookings 0420 733 440 or just turn up

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Howard Thrown Out!

ALP 84

Liberal 47
Nationals 9
Country Liberal 1

Independent 3

Undecided 9

The ABC computer has Labor taking 86 out of the 150 seats.

Labor has taken 23 seats from the coalition and brought down the Howard government, with the icing on the cake being the likelihood that Howard has lost his own seat.

The routing leaves the Liberal Party depleted at every level of government across the nation - Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman now holds the Liberals' highest public office.

Voters ignored the onslaught of massive coalition fear campaigns "Wall to wall Labor", "Don't hand the country back to the unions", "A vote for a change of government a vote to change the country", "70 percent of Labor's front bench are ex-union officials". In a precision voting pattern relying on Greens preferences voters made clear their desire to rid themselves of Howard and his team of yes and yesterday's men.

For the second time in history a prime minister has lost his seat and for the second time in history the revenge was largely due to the prime minister's hatred of unions and his forcing through of extreme industrial relations laws.

The defeat of Howard is a tribute to the broad community based three year Rights at Work campaign and the working relationship with the Greens and other allies that that campaign resulted in.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow says voters have used the election as a referendum on the industrial relations changes.

She says the Labor win comes after a lengthy campaign by both union and non-union members.

"Right across the country for almost three years in the making, we've now had a community campaign and today you saw that array of orange," she said.

"I'm very proud of all those working men and women out there today standing up for a decent Australia, standing up for a Rudd Labor government that will put rights at work back in place."

Bernie Banton

Bernie and Karen Banton on Andrew Denton's 'Enough Rope'

Friday, November 23, 2007

Victory: Tri Star workers redundancy pay

After a campaign lasting more than eighteen months, the last of the Tristar workers has received their full redundancy entitlement.

Three workers were made redundant on Tuesday and the last manufacturing worker will leave the company on 30 November.

AMWU New South Wales Secretary Paul Bastian said that the workers were overjoyed that they would receive their full entitlements after such a long hard battle.

The company ceased operations, but did not make its longest serving employees redundant. Using a strategy based on new technicalities in WorkChoices, the company kept these workers ‘employed’ doing nothing, waiting for WorkChoices to take effect.

“Under WorkChoices the company could simply refuse to negotiate a new agreement and revert back to the award – which enabled them to pay the long serving employees much less money,” said Mr Bastian.

As public sympathy for the Tri Star workers grew, the Howard Government was forced to act.

But Mr Bastian says they can take no credit for the resolution of the dispute.

“The Tri Star situation could occur again because the laws enable it to happen."

AMWU organiser Martin Schutz said the toll taken on the health of the workers and their families can never be repaid.

“I shudder to think what happens to workers who don’t have unions, or the media’s attention,” he said.

“Let’s all remember Tri Star when we vote this Saturday to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Firefighters: Demo against IR laws

NSW firefighters protest against the federal government's industrial relations laws

Howard legacy: Loss of moral compass

Paul Keating:

"The principal reason the public should take the opportunity to kill off the Howard Government has less to do with broken promises on interest rates — or even its draconian WorkChoices industrial laws — and everything to do with restoring a moral basis to our public life.

Without this, the nation has no standard to rely upon, no claim that can be believed, not even when the grave step of going to war is being considered. When truth is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Cynicism and deceitfulness have been the defining characteristics of John Howard and his Government. They were brazen enough to oversee the corruption of a UN welfare program. And when they were found out, not one of them accepted ministerial responsibility. Not Downer, not Vaile and certainly not Howard. What they were doing was letting the cockies get their wheat sold through the AWB while turning a blind eye to the AWB's unscrupulous behaviour — illegally funding a regime Howard was arguing was so bad it had to be changed by force.

John Howard took us into the disastrous Gulf war on the back of two lies. One, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, capable of threatening the Middle East and Western Europe; the other, that Howard was judiciously weighing whether to commit Australian forces against an evolving situation. We now know he had committed our forces to the Americans all along.

If the Prime Minister cannot be believed, who in the system is to be believed?"


Howard legacy: Liberal shame in Lindsay

Outgoing Liberal MP Jackie Kelly, a Howard favorite, says a bogus pamphlet that portrays Labor as sympathisers of Islamic terrorists and was distributed by her husband was just a "Chaser-style of prank".

The Liberal Party was flailing last night after a senior NSW party official and Ms Kelly's husband, Gary Clarke, were implicated in the dirty tricks campaign involving race hate in Ms Kelly's former western suburbs seat of Lindsay.

The ALP has written to the Australian Electoral Commission demanding action be taken after Ms Kelly's husband, Gary Clark, and NSW Liberal Party state executive member Jeff Egan were caught distributing bogus pamphlets in Lindsay portraying Labor as sympathisers of Islamic terrorists.

Speaking on ABC radio this morning, Ms Kelly said she did not approve of the pamphlet, but labelled it a "Chaser-style of prank".

"I think if you read it you'd be laughing.

Labor's national secretary, Tim Gartrell, names Mr Clark, Mr Egan and Troy Craig, president of the Glenmore Park Action Group, in his complaint to the commission, and urges the matter be referred to the Australian Federal Police and NSW Police.


Do unto others

Thursday, November 22, 2007.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Howard legacy: IR changes kept secret!

While the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, insist Work Choices will not change, their lawyers have blocked access to the documents that show they have considered going further.

But a 2½-year freedom of information battle with the Prime Minister's Department has failed to secure the release of details of what those plans might be.

In 2005 the department blocked the release of dozens of documents showing how Work Choices was formulated, and discussing options for more reform.

The Government used "conclusive certificates" to reject the FOI application, saying it was not in the public interest for the documents to be exposed.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Howard legacy: veiled threats

Howard's deputy Mark Vaile of AWB infamy adds insult to injury. Not only are he and John Howard totally unrepentant over the rorts the National Audit Office has confirmed in the controversial Regional Partnerships Program, but the Deputy Prime Minister is hinting at political motivation in the timing of release of the report.

Vaile told the ABC: "The Auditor-General has been working on finalising this report for over 12 months now ... We've been expecting it to have been released before this ... Here we are one week from the election''. He suggested the rules for what happened in the "caretaker'' period before the election should be reassessed. "To have an unelected individual who is a statutory office holder making a decision on the release of a report like this and the timing - maybe that needs to be looked at."


Friday, November 16, 2007

Howard legacy: $328 million grants rorts

The Auditor-General has exposed unprecedented government abuse of a $328 million grants program, undermining the Coalition's credentials as a careful financial manager.

A damning report shows that a third of the money from the controversial Regional Partnerships Program from 2003 to last year was pumped into just 10 rural Coalition seats - including one held by John Anderson, who as minister for transport and regional services had ultimate responsibility for the scheme.

"The manner in which the program has been administered over the three-year period to 30 June 2006 examined by ANAO had fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration," it says.

It found some ministers were more likely to overrule departmental opposition to specific projects if the applications came from Coalition seats, and more likely to knock back funding for projects supported by the department if they were from Labor seats.

Before the 2004 election, then parliamentary secretary DeAnne Kelly asked the department to compile a list of 100 projects - by electorate and bid amount - for her consideration over a nine-day period. Other grants were being approved up to the 5pm start of the caretaker period, with 16 projects winning funding in the last 90 minutes of the Government's term. New grants were also announced during the campaign - in some cases without the recipients having filled in an application form.

The approval rate for applications jumped to a record 81 per cent in the lead-up to the 2004 poll, compared with one of 57 per cent the year before.

The report also revealed that the introduction of a three-member ministerial committee to oversee the program in November 2005 initially had little effect, with more grants approved by the relevant minister despite departmental opposition. In the past year, however, the Government has made major steps to overhaul the grants process.

Kevin Rudd said he was outraged by the arrogant abuse of the scheme.

"Mr Howard must today explain to the Australian people how this abuse of such a massive amount of taxpayer's dollars occurred. How did it happen on his watch?" he said.

Howard legacy: political donations hidden

In 2006 the Howard Government weakened Australia's electoral laws by raising the disclosure threshold for political donations from $1,500 to $10,000, making it much easier for corporate Australia to avoid disclosing cash donations to political parties.

The previous system was inadequate, but it did expose corporations and political parties to some bad publicity about donations over $1,500. All those donations over $1,500 but under $10,000, which were previously made public, are now exempt from public disclosure. Now big donors can hide the money they give to political parties by making multiple donations of $10,000 to a party without having to declare it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Howard legacy: More ASIO bungles

Ben Saul, the director of the Centre for International and Global Law at Sydney University, says the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security inquiry is necessary.

"It's appropriate for the Inspector-General to look at whether disciplinary proceedings within ASIO itself should be launched, but also even the broader question of whether a criminal prosecution would be appropriate," he said.

The judge in the case did raise the prospect that the ASIO agents had behaved criminally. Dr Saul says a police investigation may follow.

"In this case it would be appropriate for the federal police or the New South Wales police to launch their own investigation," he said.

"Probably the right time for that is after the Inspector-General's own investigation where he can use his special powers to get to the bottom of what happened."

With this case coming hot on the heels of the bungled handling of the investigation into Dr Haneef, Dr Saul says a disturbing trend is emerging.

"It certainly suggests that there's been a kind of cultural and political pressure within the intelligence agencies to get results on terrorism investigations," he said.

"That has seemingly translated into some sloppy intelligence gathering, and in some cases seemingly excess use of statutory power."

Howard legacy: ABC board stacked

Friends of the ABC spokesman Professor Alan Knight writes:

John Howard's legacy will include an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Board packed with rightwing radicals, linked to industry funded think tanks hostile to public enterprise.

Howard's nepotism has encouraged a flowering of a web of influence. loaded information, and jobbery seeking to eliminate perceived leftist influences in the arts, the universities and most of all, the ABC.

His flagrant abuse of power to appoint his political allies to government posts, directly threatens the independence of the national broadcaster as never before.

If a new government is to be elected, it should examine whether its possible to spill the Board, so that a fair and open appointment process might be implemented in the public interest.

Hand's off the ABC, Howard!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Howard legacy: impoverished apprentices

Professor Michael Bittman, from the University of New England, wrote the report "Living Standards of Apprentices". He says most apprentices struggle to buy the necessities of life.

"Particularly a first and second-year apprentice's income is exceptionally low. It's so low that it's, in most cases, below the Henderson poverty line," he said.

About 70,000 young Australians begin apprenticeships every year but according to the professor more than 50 per cent of them drop out, and he says it is because of the money.

"Most of them would get, you know, under $300 a week," Professor Bittman said.

He says they survive by living at home or working second jobs.

Jim Barron, chief executive of Group Training Australia, says given some trainee wages are not much higher than the dole, it is a wonder apprentices are able to survive in cities like Sydney and Melbourne.

"Here in Sydney, a first-year apprentice in the metal trades industry, receives an award wage of something like $13,000 gross a year," he said.

"This translates into an after-tax income of approximately about $231 a week. That's about $46 below the poverty line and about $20 more than the dole.

"So we really do need to make sure that when we are attracting school leavers into the trades we do financially renumerate them properly, in the first couple of years particularly."


Howard legacy: bans on stickers

The building industry watchdog has been accused of acting as John Howard's political policeman by ordering removal from building sites of stickers and posters critical of the Prime Minister.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission has also ordered that a flag advertising a trust fund for brain tumour victims be taken down from sites because it is based on the Eureka flag, which it considers a construction union symbol.

Richard Burke, a union delegate on a city building site, was told by his employer to remove his car sticker, which read "For our kids' sake, Howard has to go!" or he would no longer be able to park his car on the site.

The ABCC, set up by the Government to keep the building union in check, has ordered construction companies to make sure their sites are free of union signs, posters and paraphernalia, saying they "convey a message that union membership is not a matter of individual choice".

But at a Hawthorn site the foreman, who said he was acting on orders from the commission, has gone further by ordering the union to remove stickers that contain no union symbolism but criticise WorkChoices and Mr Howard.

One such offending sticker calls the Prime Minister "Con-Man", with his picture in the O. Another says: "WorkChoices and John Howard? Not my choice!" Neither sticker identifies the union.

Construction union assistant secretary Bill Oliver said the stickers were in the union shop steward's office and the lunch room of the site.

"Workers have been bombarded with $116 million of taxpayer-funded advertising about WorkChoices, but they get ordered to take down a few stickers that advertise their opposition to it," he said. "It's a bit rude."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Howard legacy: more immigration horror

Tony Tran, who was living in Brisbane with his wife and son, was detained in December 1999 when immigration officials told him his visa had been cancelled years earlier.

The Department admitted a mistake and released him after five-and-a-half years, but because he and his son have no permanent resident status they still face possible deportation.

Mr Tran had been in Australia for seven years, and after applying for a spouse visa for his wife he was detained.

This was despite the fact that a letter notifying him of his cancelled visa had never been properly delivered to him.

David Manne, director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, told ABC's Lateline that is illegal.

"He should never have been in there in the first place. He should never have been locked up," he said.

"Under Australian law, if you're not properly notified of a decision, it is unlawful for you to be detained."

Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke was not allowed to have an official briefing after Tony Tran claimed he was wrongfully detained.

Mr Burke says Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews is the only minister to block access while the Government is in caretaker mode.

He says it demonstrates a cover-up and Coalition arrogance.

"In terms of incompetence the Government and this Minister have form whether it's the refugee swap, the handling of Dr Haneef's case, there's been a succession of examples of incompetence," he said.

"In terms of arrogance it's once again public servants being viewed as though they're the property of the Liberal Party."

Howard legacy: Executive pay; up wages down

Salary packages for executives have jumped by 28% to an average of more than $2.5 million a year. This is a massive average pay rise of $570,000 for the year, or around $11,000 a week.

At the same time that CEOs are getting outrageous pay increases, hard working Australians have experienced a fall in their real wages under Work Choices says the ACTU.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:
"This is another clear sign that Work Choices is taking Australia down the United States path of a small number of executives earning obscene amounts while large numbers of workers are stuck on low wages.

"Last week the head of the Howard Government’s wage setting body, Professor Ian Harper confirmed that more than a million award workers have had a real pay cut of up to $800 a year under Work Choices.

"This week we find that CEOs are getting paid more in a week than most workers get in a year.

"Increases in interest rates, petrol prices, food and other household basics along with the downward pressure on wages from WorkChoices mean more and more working families are struggling to keep their heads above water."


Telstra staff say NO to ‘quick and dirty’ deal

Telstra call centre staff have rejected a management proposal to introduce a five year, non-union agreement. This is a very good outcome and reflects the hard work of many concerned CPSU members and activists in Telstra.

It demonstrates that despite enormous pressure from management, Telstra staff are prepared to stand up for a fairer deal.

The result reflects Telstra management’s failure to address the concerns Telstra workers – union and non-union – had about the proposed agreement. Ever since the proposed agreement was released Telstra workers made it clear they wanted to make an agreement that:

  • covers all staff
  • allows for direct union involvement in negotiations
  • is shorter than 5 years.

Why such a rush?

The low guaranteed pay offer and the potential threat to their redundancy entitlements were also factors. Staff were also sceptical about Telstra’s decision to rush into the agreement 10 months early, and in the middle of a federal election where workplace rights are a key issue. Your union raised these concerns repeatedly on your behalf but Telstra management refused to listen.

What was the result of the ballot?

Curiously, Telstra management are refusing to release the figure from the ballot saying only that a “majority of voting employees voted against the Agreement so this Agreement will not proceed.”

Where to from here?

Telstra unions will be writing to Telstra management seeking commitment to an agreed timetable for a union agreement for all Telstra staff. Defeating this proposed agreement is just the first step to getting a better deal for Telstra workers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Howard legacy: childcare failure

Increasing childcare rebates will ultimately push up the cost of such expense for parents, a new Sydney University study has found.

The Kids Count: Better early childhood education and care in Australia study found the nation's early childhood education and care was falling way behind the world's best practice.

But while such subsidies would improve affordability in the short-term, they would push up the cost of child care in the medium to long term, co-editor Dr Elizabeth Hill said.

"Subsidies simply add to demand when the supply of childcare places remains stable," Dr Hill said in a statement.

"Instead, we should be putting substantial resources into building a high quality national system of early childhood education and care for all Australian children and their families.

"The policy focus needs to be on improving quality as well as affordability."

Fellow co-author, Professor Barbara Pocock, said that at a time of record public surpluses, it was regrettable a larger investment was not being made.

More money would mean Australia could move from the bottom of the developed world's table measuring the investment countries make in children's earliest years.

"It is now well-established that devoting resources to children's first years is repaid many times over in individual education and employment prospects, as well as broader social and economic wellbeing," she said.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

100,000 march for climate change action

Australians in 60 cities and towns have taken to the streets today to ask the major political parties to make a stronger commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The national day of action has tried to draw attention to global warming and pressure the political parties to address the issue.

The Nature Conservation Council says about 100,000 people took part in Walk Against Warming marches across Australia.

In Sydney, a crowd of about 30,000 gathered in the Domain where they were addressed by Greens Senator Bob Brown and Federal Opposition Environment spokesman Peter Garrett.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rudd: IR Laws will go

Kevin Rudd marked the second anniversary of the government's Work Choices laws, saying it was now down to trench warfare until election day.

Mr Rudd said Peter Costello's claims that he had suddenly decided Work Choices should go no further were not believable as they stood against everything he had done in his political career.

"It just ain't right and it is not decent for working people to have to struggle to retain their penalty rates and overtime and some decency in the workplace," Mr Rudd said.

"It is a set of laws which don't belong in this country.

"To get there (to abolishing Work Choices), it is trench warfare from here to election day."

Mr Rudd's comments coincide with media reports that the government's workplaces relations watchdog had rejected half of all Australian Workplace Agreements as being unfair.

Mr Rudd said the Liberal candidate for the Adelaide seat of Makin, Bob Day, was a former office bearer of the HR Nicholls Society, the extreme right-wing industrial relations think tank of the nation.

"It is where Peter Costello learned to read and write," he said, adding that Mr Costello had stated previously that only a minimum wage was necessary in an IR system and all else should be up for negotiation.

"That is the scorched earth policy, that is the law of the jungle on industrial relations that Peter Costello, Bob Day and the HR Nicholls Society stand for."

Labor deputy leader and workplace relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said figures released on Friday showed a backlog of almost 140,000 agreements in the office of the IR watchdog.

"How many piles of paper is that sitting in the workplace authority," she said.

"Then they can't be clear about the status of lots of these agreements because they are circulating around somewhere between the authority and the employers.

"You imagine being a small business who just wants to know 'Is the agreement that I have given my worker OK?'. You won't get an answer for month and months."

AWAs hurt WA workers

A report by the Western Australia's fair employment advocate, Helen Creed, found that some employers had used AWAs to direct employees when to take annual leave, change their rosters at an hour's notice, cut meal breaks to 15 minutes and remove other basic rights.

Julia Gillard, Labor's Deputy Leader, said many vulnerable workers without bargaining power, particularly the young and the low-skilled, had seen their pay and conditions stripped away in Western Australia.

The report analysed 33 West Australian AWAs and found 64 per cent had "removed or reduced every protected award condition". Thirty per cent did so while providing wages less than or equal to the relevant pay scale.

Ms Creed said the task of analysing the AWAs was hampered by secrecy provisions that denied her office access to individual agreements unless they were pased on to her by concerned employees. Even then, the employer could not be identified without risking a penalty of up to six months jail.

Ms Creed said the Government's fairness test introduced in May had not alleviated her concerns. More than half the contracts she reviewed were lodged after it came into effect.

The report said more AWAs were registered in WA than any other state, with the retail sector most reliant on them, followed by mining and hospitality.

WA State Employment Minister Michelle Roberts said the findings showed the system was fundamentally flawed.

Howard legacy: Free speech whittled away

A culture of secrecy has taken hold in Australia with a new report finding 500 laws now restrict media access and up to 1000 suppression orders control court matters at any given time.

The Report of the National Audit of Free Speech also found Freedom of Information laws were ineffective with one request for the travel claims of MPs resulting in a $1.25 million processing charge.

The report's findings will put fresh pressure on the Howard Government to match reforms promised by Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd before the November 24 election, including the creation of an independent FOI Commissioner.

Former NSW Ombudsman Irene Moss handed her independent audit to the chiefs of major media organisations.

Ms Moss said her findings showed many of the mechanisms vital to a well-functioning democracy were now at risk from secrecy, censorship and lack of transparency.

"The audit would broadly conclude that free speech and media freedom are being whittled away by gradual and sometimes imperceptible degrees," Ms Moss said.

Classic fielding errors!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

MUA safe shipping campaign

Australian seafarers will today call for a ban on unregulated foreign
ships carrying dangerous cargoes into and around Australian ports

The Maritime Union of Australia has called for a ban on Flag of
Convenience ships transporting cargo such as ammonium nitrate,
explosives and Liquefied Natural Gas because of the threat to national

"While Australian seafarers are subjected to full ASIO and Federal
Police checks, foreign seafarers receive only cursory online security
checks by Australian authorities," MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin
said today.

"International terrorism experts have identified Flag of Convenience
ships, registered in tax havens like Panama, Mongolia and Liberia, as a
key target for global terrorism.

"There are thousands of security-sensitive ship movements around the
Australian coast every year - and these numbers are growing.

"For the past 11 years the Howard Government has actively encouraged
the spread of Flag of Convenience shipping - today nine out of every
ten ships off our coast are FOC.

"In contrast the ALP has committed to placing stricter controls on the
transportation of these goods - recognising that Australian seafarers
have all been thoroughly screened by our intelligence agencies."

The MUA will be distributing 100,000 fliers at beaches and in coastal
electorates around Australia in the coming weeks to highlight concerns
about the dangers of unregulated FOC shipping.

"As the grounding of the Panamanian-flagged Pasha Bulker shows, any
Australian coastal community is at the mercy of poorly regulated

"That's the message the MUA will be taking to Australia's beaches over
the coming weeks."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hans Blix: Sydney Peace Prize winner

0521 05Dr Hans Blix was welcomed to Sydney's Town Hall tonight as a hero by a close to capacity audience. He was applauded by the throng for his courageous stand agianst those who derided his investigation that showed Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. These weapons were the reason given by George Bush, Tony Blair and of course John Howard for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. An invasion that tens of millions of people around the world tried to stop by demonstrations their bellicose leaders brushed aside. Howard described the close to million Australian demonstrators as "the mob".

Blix of course has long been proved correct while those who denigrated him remain in power still convinced they can win the war that they started. Blair has had to leave and this month may prove the demise of Howard, while Bush is openly derided in the "super power" United States both there and around the world.

Read Hans Blix speech here

Monday, November 05, 2007

Howard legacy: underfunding TAFE

The simple fact is that it takes years for policy decisions which negatively affect TAFE to impact the broader voting community. So it's more appealing for a government striving to be re-elected to spend public money on areas where the impact will be felt more instantly, health for example.

As a result successive governments have deserted the longer term needs of the communities that have elected them. This year is no exception.

TAFE funding has once again been reduced

The Federal Government's 2007 Budget provided no additional funding for TAFE. As a result, TAFE funding has once again been reduced in real terms.

And this is at a time when the nation faces a severe skills shortage. So why would any government short change the one training organisation that has the ability to help address the skills shortage that's threatening to bring our economy to its knees?

The answer, sadly, is that providing adequate funding for TAFE won't help them get re-elected. It's not high enough on the electoral agenda and it won't have an immediate positive effect on the voting community.

They're relying on voters concerning themselves only with the short-term needs. They're relying on the majority being a silent majority.

Help us fix this problem

Please fill out and submit this form to tell our politicians what you think about the under-funding of TAFE.


Go Now Joe!

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey, who's stint in parliament is looking increasingly insecure, has promised to resign!

Go Now Joe!

Hockey says he would resign as a minister if substantial changes were made to Work Choices laws.

He made the promise after Labor's workplace relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said it was on the public record that Treasurer Peter Costello plans to take Work Choices further.

"I will resign as a minister in the Howard government if there are any substantial changes or any of the changes that Julia Gillard has just flagged."

Howard legacy: redundancy payments trashed

A thorough analysis of Telstra’s new agreement by CPSU’s (Community and Public Sector Union) legal and technical experts has revealed serious problems for staff in relation to redundancy arrangements.

As Telstra intends to cut a further 6,000 jobs over the next few years, it is crucial that all staff understand the implications these changes will have for them, before they vote.

Retrenchment benefits

The first problem is the introduction of a new clause that will make it harder for staff to access retrenchment benefits. In the new agreement, retrenchment benefits are no longer payable where Telstra obtains…“an offer of alternative employment either within Telstra, or with another employer.”

Your rights or their policy

The second problem is Telstra plan to take most the current redundancy arrangements out of an agreement and recreate them as Telstra policy. At first glance, this may seem like a harmless administrative change. But the reality is Telstra’s new agreement drastically reduces your rights. Under the current union agreement, you have access to enforceable rights in relation to redundancy arrangements including the option of a $4,500 external job search payment, six week internal Telstra job program, guarantee of pay in lieu of notice and others.

Under Telstra’s proposed non-union agreement most of your redundancy conditions become Telstra policy which as we have seen can be changed by management whenever they like. Concerns about Telstra's attitude to policy are strengthened by Telstra's own words: “To avoid doubt, the policies do not form part of this Agreement or the contract of employment for Employees and are not binding on Telstra.”


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Howard legacy: doctors shun Australia

The number of overseas doctors seeking to work in Australia has fallen 90 per cent because of the federal government's handling of the case against former suspected terrorism supporter Mohamed Haneef, a medical association warns.

The Overseas and Australian Medical Graduates Association (OAMGA), in a joint statement with the United Indian Associations (UIA) group, said the massive drop in the number of doctors seeking temporary visas to work in Australia was exacerbating the existing health crisis.

"This spells disaster for an already overstretched and under-resourced medical work force - particularly for rural and regional areas where many of these doctors are posted," OAMGA president Dr Nagamma Prakash said today.

"In the various interviews given by the presidents of UIA and OAMGA to both national and international media, they predicted that overseas doctors planning to arrive in Australia would reconsider their decision ... they have been proven correct."

Dr Prakash also said there was "growing anger amongst Australians of Indian background" over the Howard government's handling of the Haneef's case, adding it had "brought discredit to the Indian Community here in Australia".


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Howard legacy: wages fall

Real wages have fallen under the Howard Government's new wage setting system, with some workers on award pay rates now more than $15 a week worse off in the past 12 months.

Recent higher inflation has overtaken the modest pay rises handed out by the Australian Fair Pay Commission last month, pushing most of the 1 million workers covered by award rates into the red, according to new figures.

The commission confirmed the figures yesterday, saying it had relied on Reserve Bank inflation forecasts, which were too low.

"The … inflation forecast was 1.6 per cent for the period December 2006 to October 2007. We now know the actual outcome for the period was a rate of CPI inflation of 2 per cent," commissioner Ian Harper told The Age.

"Had the RBA forecast been correct, the commission's decision would translate to a real wage increase for the majority of pay-scale-reliant Australians."

The figures, compiled by the ACTU, show the 100,000 people earning the federal minimum wage of $522.12 a week have all but trodden water, with a tiny, six-cents-a-week real increase in their wage.

But at all other classification levels, which cover 1.1 million workers in many industries, pay rates have fallen behind inflation.


Peter Andren dies

Peter Andren, a federal independent MP, died this morning after a short battle with cancer. He was 61.

"He gave politics a good name," Senator Bob Brown said in a statement.

"He brought it fresh air.

"In the conservative electorate of Calare, his vote grew at each election, though he tackled the Howard government on the Iraq war, the Tampa crisis, climate change and its approval of logging Tasmania's forests."

"He worked hard for Calare and the electorate loved him," Senator Brown said.

"His was political representation at its honest best".

Bob Debus Labor candidate for the seat of Macquarie, said Mr Andren will be deeply missed.

"Peter Andren was highly regarded and his loss at such a young age will be deeply felt by the people of the central west," Mr Debus said in a statement.

Since his election in 1996 Mr Andren slowly turned Calare into one of the safest seats in the nation.

"Peter was known and admired in his own community and around Australia because he articulated such admirable values - honesty and integrity in the political system and social justice in the community," Mr Debus said.

Respect for Peter Andren crossed political boundaries, Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett said.

"Knowing Peter and the contribution that he made and the real struggle that he had with his illness, makes his passing, I think, a very tragic event," Mr Garrett told reporters in his Sydney electorate of Kingsford Smith.

"Peter Andren really did make a distinctive contribution to political life and was well loved and well respected across political boundaries."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Government 'conspired against Haneef'

There were plans to detain Mohamed Haneef under the Migration Act if he was released on bail, his lawyer says.

There were plans to detain Mohamed Haneef under the Migration Act if he was released on bail, his lawyer says.

The lawyer representing former Gold Coast-based doctor Mohamed Haneef, Peter Russo, says he has proof the Federal Government and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) conspired against his client.

Mr Russo used freedom of information laws to obtain copies of emails sent by the AFP before Dr Haneef's bail hearing in Brisbane.

He says the emails clearly indicate Dr Haneef would be detained under the Migration Act if he was granted bail.

Mr Russo says it undermines the assertion of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that revoking Dr Haneef's visa was unrelated to the court decision.

"Andrews may say that he didn't take any of that information into consideration to give it some balance, but it doesn't read that way," he said.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Howard legacy: narrower broadband!

The Howard Government's broadband plan offers sparse coverage and in some cases is less than half as good as the Government claims.

The Institute of Public Affairs says the Government's plan for rural Australia is likely to cover ten kilometres from a transmitter rather than their target of up to 20 kilometres.

The report states there is a need for a fibre-optic network as Labor proposes, but it criticises both parties for failing to adequately plan for the future.

Labor's communications spokesman Stephen Conroy says the Coalition's plan is a scandal.

"No matter how hard John Howard and Helen Coonan try to rewrite the laws of physics they just can't," he said.

"This is the second independent report that has stated that you can not transmit broadband to nearly half the places using the Government's wireless broadband that John Howard claims."

Mr Conroy says the objectivity of the report further proves the Coalition is promoting something it cannot deliver.

"This isn't a Labor Party think tank, this is the conservative Institute of Public Affairs who have supported the Howard Government through 11 long years," he said.

20 per cent renewable energy by 2020

Kevin Rudd has announced Labor's renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020.

Green groups have welcomed the announcement and say Labor's target is better than the Coalition's, not only because it is 20 per cent not 15 per cent but also because it does not include clean coal.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says the target will not cost jobs.

The CFMEU's Tony Maher says employers are relaxed about the Opposition's plan.

"That's what they tell us privately, they're relaxed about emissions trading. Really it's political scare campaigning by the Government," he said.

"You've got to bear in mind the energy growth between now and 2020 will be between 30 and 40 per cent so there's plenty of room for various energy sources."

Chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, Dominique La Fontaine, says there will be more industry development under Labor's target.

"It's 15,000 gigawatts more than Liberal Party policy, that's a significant difference and it's the kind of economy of scale that we need to develop the industry and to bring the cost down so that the technologies can compete. Good cheap clean power for Australia," she said.

Howard legacy: run down education

"The legacy of the Howard/Costello partnership is one of broken skills and wasted opportunities," said AMWU National President, Julius Roe.

"We trail the OECD on many key indicators relating to education and training. The last decade has been a decade of neglect.

"The proportion of Australian adults with at least upper secondary education is now below the OECD average;

  • A very high proportion of the existing working age population (50.1%) have no post school qualifications and that proportion is higher than the most productive economies;
  • Australia ranks near the bottom of the OECD in terms of the growth rate of science and engineering graduates;
  • Our national investment in early childhood education is well below the OECD average.
  • Despite the long economic boom, participation rates in Australia are far too low when compared to the most productive economies;
  • There are still more than 11% of the workforce who are either unemployed or underemployed;
  • The number of existing workers completing higher level VET qualifications has declined significantly in the recent years.
  • Despite the millions of dollars that have been ploughed in to VET the qualification completion rate in the 15-24 cohort is estimated to be 23.7%;
  • Completion rates for traineeships are very low and completion rates for apprenticeships in the key trades have declined significantly during the last decade;
  • Levels of public investment in all levels of education and training are well below the leading economies and have been declining at the very time that other leading economies have dramatically increased their investment.

"We call on Mr Howard to put the interests of Australia first and to stop undermining state based public training institutions such as TAFE. He should be reversing the funding decline that he has been responsible for now that he is apparently awash with taxpayers money.

"An investment in TAFE education and training infrastructure would be less likely to put upward pressure on interest rates and would be a far more effective contribution to alleviating skills shortages than this drip feed of Technical Colleges and American style Military Academies." Mr Roe said


Howard legacy: destruction of manufacturing

An official Federal Government briefing paper predicts that an extra 33,000 jobs will be shed from manufacturing over the next five years (source: Australian Jobs 2007, DEWR).

This is on top of the 108,000 jobs the sector has already lost under the Howard Government since 1996.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence will meet with workers at the Holden plant in Elizabeth, SA. He said:
“John Howard and Peter Costello have a terrible record of failing to support Australian manufacturing.

“More than a hundred thousands jobs have gone from the industry under their watch and 33,000 more are set to go in the next few years if the Liberals and Nationals are re-elected.

“South Australia alone has lost nearly 11,000 manufacturing jobs under the Howard Government.

“Instead of providing secure, well-paid jobs for Australians in a globally competitive manufacturing industry, the Howard Govt has focussed on slashing workers’ wages & conditions through Work Choices.

“John Howard and Peter Costello have stood by while local businesses have gone broke or have been forced to move offshore.

“If the Coalition is re-elected there is a real danger that Australia’s manufacturing industries including the all-important car and auto component sectors will lose critical mass and shrink to an unsustainable level.

“Communities that have relied on manufacturing to provide decent job opportunities for local families need to stand up in this election and vote to prevent the rising tide of job cuts and gradual loss of Australian businesses overseas.

“Labor leader Kevin Rudd’s unequivocal commitment to saving and extending our national manufacturing capacity, including a green car innovation strategy, is very welcome,” said Mr Lawrence.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Howard not trusted on IR

John Howard cannot be trusted on industrial relations and there is no doubt the Liberals will take Work Choices further after the election, the ACTU said today.

Mr Howard’s statement today that the Govt has ‘completed the process’ of Work Choices is simply not believable.

A Government document prepared by the Department of Workplace Relations (DEWR) shows that a re-elected Howard-Costello Government would expand the Work Choices system to the entire workforce.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:
“John Howard didn’t tell the Australian public about Work Choices before the last election and he cannot be trusted on industrial relations in this one.

“Peter Costello is on the record as saying he wants to make further cuts to workers’ unfair dismissal protections — beyond the 4 million workers who have already lost protection under Work Choices.

“Major business groups, including the National Farmers Federation are also calling for the ‘fairness test’ to be scrapped after the election,” said Ms Burrow.

Howard legacy: 2.2 million in poverty

Australia has recorded 15 years of almost unbroken economic growth. In fact, from 2001 to 2006, growth averaged 3 per cent a year — well above the average rate of economic growth in the OECD. Yet new figures released recently by the Australian Council of Social Service reveal that a staggering 11 per cent of Australians live below the poverty line set by the OECD. This equates to about 2.2 million Australians (including 412,000 children).

Disturbingly, the data shows that over time the divide between the "haves" and "have nots" has become a gulf. In 2003-04, there were 9.8 per cent of Australians living below the poverty line. Ironically, for a country that prides itself on a "fair go", our nation is becoming more unequal as each year passes.

Sadly, this latest data comes as no surprise to the Victorian Council of Social Service, Melbourne Citymission or other community service organisations across the country. Research published this year as part of the Australia Fair campaign found one in 10 Australians struggle to make ends meet.

Howard's scare campaign failing

Voters in critical NSW marginal seats are ignoring the Coalition's expensive anti-union fear campaign.

They are moving to Labor, even when they have respect for their sitting Liberal MP.

In NSW Prime Minister John Howard stands to lose Lindsay and Dobell, and is in danger in Robertson and Paterson, an exclusive Galaxy survey has found.

Galaxy found the Liberal primary vote in the four marginals had fallen 8 per cent since the 2004 election, while Labor's support had risen by 9 per cent.

The two-party preferred vote, after preferences were allocated, was 54 per cent Labor and 46 per cent Liberal.

The Liberals may need to retain all of their 21 NSW seats to ensure Labor's Kevin Rudd does not get the 16 extra required nationally to take government.

The results also showed that electors in two seats in which former trade union officials are running were not bothered by the Coalition's warning about union influence on a possible Labor government.

Only 27 per cent said the ex-union leaders were poor choices as candidates, while 45 per cent said they were good choices and 28 per cent were uncommitted.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bob Gollan 1917 - 2007

By Jack Miller

Emeritus Professor Robin (Bob) Gollan died in Canberra on October 15.

In a long and distinguished career he taught and lectured in NSW schools and at Sydney Teachers' College before being appointed Manning Clark Professor of Australian History at the Australian National University from which position he retired to Armonds Beach (Bermagui) in 1982.

Flight Lieutenant Bob Gollan also served in the Royal Australian Air Force during served in World War 11 as a navigator in Beaufort reconnaissance bombers.

His war experience no doubt helped shape his later work for peace.

Writing in 2005 of the death of an RAAF mate in 1944, Bob explained his reasons for handing back a commemorative medallion awarded by the Prime Minister to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 11:

"I wondered what (my mate) and the more than 40,000 men and boys who died defending our country would feel about John Howard's Australia.

“Certainly most people are materially better off.

“We have shared in the bounty of the one-fifth of the world which has become rich.

“But we have become a country governed by lies and fear.

"John Howard has surrendered the self-reliance for which we fought, to curry favour with the most dangerous military power in history.

“He has stoked the fear of terrorists who may target us because of his fawning subservience to US President George Bush.

“He boasts he stands for mateship and egalitarianism at the same time he attempts, by his industrial relations 'reforms', to destroy the institutions on which those qualities have been nurtured."

In retirement near Bermagui in the 1980s Bob and his wife Anne were active members of that community.

They, with others, founded the Bega Peace Group which later resulted in Bega Valley Shire Council proclaiming the shire 'Nuclear Free'.

Bob and Anne supported moves to conserve the coastal landscapes and forests locally.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Unionists in Parliament

Anna Bligh Queensland Premier responded to a question asked of her in parliament recently.

“I believe the question was whether 90 per cent of the members of my cabinet are union members. I think the answer to that is no. I believe that 100 per cent of my cabinet are members of relevant trade unions.

Not only are they members of their relevant trade unions; they are proud members of their relevant trade unions. They are proud of that, because trade unions have been one of the organisations that have built this country.

They secured the eight-hour day. They secured decent working conditions so that people could feed their families and be safe in their workplaces. There is no shame in it — none whatsoever.

The member wants to come snivelling in here doing the dirty work of John Howard. We do not resile for one minute from the fact that people on this side of the House care about the interests of working people. In terms of the talent of my cabinet, I will stack them up one by one against every runt of the litter that the other side lines up.”

Nurses victory

After nine days of industrial action more than 5000 public sector nurses have accepted a new agreement that maintains nurse patient ratios and improves nurse patient ratios in areas under pressure such as emergency departments and post- and ante-natal areas.

It has also been agreed that additional nurses will be employed in other areas under pressure in the Victorian health system such as aged care, palliative, geriatric evaluation (GEM) and management and smaller country hospitals.

Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said: "This has been an unprecedented dispute that was unnecessarily exacerbated by the Brumby Government's enthusiastic embrace of the WorkChoices laws. This has been an extremely distressing time for nurses, their patients and the Victorian community with nurses forced to defend nurse patient ratios and to fight for reasonable and fair wages and employment conditions.

"This dispute was never just about the money, it was about staffing our hospitals safely by maintaining and improving nurse patient ratios so that nurses can provide safe patient care. Nurses are there when your children are born and they are there when you die. Nurses become nurses because they want to make a difference and care for the ill, the injured, the elderly and the frail. Only nurse patient ratios allow nurses to deliver this level of care and the Victorian community is the winner from this agreement.

"The ANF is confident that Victorians requiring care throughout the nine days of industrial action received that care. There should be no doubt, the level of care throughout the industrial action would have been higher had hospital administrators and executives focused on managing the impact of the bans rather than targeting and bullying individual nurses," she said.

"The ANF office has been overwhelmed by the community's support and we've been unable to respond to everyone individually. Thank you for every phone call, every fax, every email and every post on our campaign website which made us more determined to fight the Government to fund nursing properly," Ms Fitzpatrick said.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Economic management for whom?

The Consumer Price Index figures released today show there have been big rises over the year in the cost of housing (4.2%), health (4.3%) and education (4.1%) and a big increase in food prices in the last quarter with fruit rising nearly 10%.

The figures also reveal that the Howard Government’s Fair Pay Commission underestimated the level of inflation, predicting 1.6%, when today’s data shows the actual figure was higher — leaving more than a million award workers worse off in real terms.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

“John Howard and Peter Costello can no longer say they are good at managing the economy when the living standards of working Australians are falling in real terms.

“Today’s lift in inflation confirms that the measly pay rise of up to $10 a week that the Howard Govt’s Fair Pay Commission gave award wage workers at the start of this month (1 October 2007) was not enough to cover the cost of living.

“It shows that under Work Choices the incomes of more than a million working families are not keeping pace with inflation and that their living standards will fall further if the Liberals are re-elected and they go further with Work Choices.

“The prospect of another interest rate rise later this year is also very worrying for working families already struggling to keep their heads above water,” said Ms Burrow.

Beware Hockey, cyberstalker

There is an astonishing article in The Australian newspaper today. Joe Hockey and his staff have reportedly cyber-stalked hundreds of citizens concerned about the Howard Government's IR laws.

Using taxpayers' time and money, Joe Hockey and his staff are reported to have compiled a dossier about people who oppose WorkChoices.

They have trawled through newspapers over recent months, Googling the names of people who exercised their democratic right to write letters to the editor. The article says Mr Hockey has then shopped this 20-page dossier to national newspapers.

Read the article exposing Hockey's smear campaign and watch our newest ad.

This is just the latest in a long line of Howard Government fear and smear campaigns. We in no way apologise for encouraging people to democratically express their opinion in their own words.

Mr Hockey wasted $121 million dollars of our money promoting these extreme IR changes. No amount of stalking, smear campaigns, and demonising of unions and rights at work supporters will change the fact that these laws are hugely unpopular and hurt working people.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cheney Howard deal revealed

Did Cheney and Howard do a deal on David Hicks?

Yes according to a report in the latest Harper's magazine.

The report quotes a US military officer as saying Hicks' freedom was negotiated directly by US Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister John Howard.

“One of our staffers was present when Vice-President Cheney interfered directly to get Hicks' plea bargain deal,” the unnamed officer told today's edition of Harper's magazine.

“He did it, apparently, as part of a deal cut with Howard.

“I kept thinking: this is the sort of thing that used to go on behind the Iron Curtain, not in America.

“And then it struck me how much this entire process had disintegrated into a political charade.

“It's demoralising for all of us.”

A month before the plea deal, Cheney visited Australia and met Howard. Hicks had been incarcerated at the US military prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years. It was a big issue in at the time and there were concerns that it could become an election issue!

WorkChoices to gatecrash Cochlear AGM

Cochlear shareholders and board members will get an unexpected dose of the federal election campaign today as workers from the Cochlear manufacturing facility in Lane Cove bring their campaign for union representation to the AGM floor.

“Cochlear workers have voted again and again to have the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union represent them in wage negotiations but under WorkChoices they have been given no choice,” said Tim Ayres, NSW Assistant Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union.

The company is refusing to negotiate a union collective agreement and the mainly female migrant workforce have been told they must accept individual contracts by November 6 or not to turn up to work on November 7.

“It is astounding that Cochlear would be so quick to negotiate massive pay rises with its board members as announced at today’s AGM but deny its workers the same right.

“Our call to Cochlear is to explain to shareholders why they have one set of rules for its high powered directors and another for its workers on the production line helping the company reach record profits every year.

“Today’s proposal to shareholders to increase the maximum remuneration for board members from $500,000 to 1500,000 smacks of hypocrisy.”


From Harvester to Harvey?

The extent of the Howard Government's plans to take the IR laws further is frightening.

Yesterday billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey said a "second tier" of foreign workers should be created in Australia, paid fifty percent less than local workers, undercutting local wages and conditions.

According to Mr Harvey, Mr Howard and the Liberal party are in total agreement with him. "You won't get politicians saying what I'm saying, but privately they know this sort of thing is a reality in the future."

Read more about Mr Harvey's demands to the Howard Government, and use our website to write a letter to the editor of your local paper now.

WorkChoices has already cut wages and conditions for Australian workers by making it easier for business to get rid of conditions like penalty rates and overtime.

Now big business wants to go a step further, driving down Australian employees' wages by taking advantage of overseas workers desperate for a new life in our country. Like Australian workers, people from overseas deserve rights at work too. One of these rights is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

457 Visa: Cheap indentured labour

The passport to misery
Sydney Morning Herald Oct 22

Eighteen Chinese Mongolians face deportation, and financial disaster, because their Queensland employer has been found in breach of the conditions of the 457 visa scheme for skilled workers under which they were brought to this country. The far from draconian penalty imposed by the Immigration Department on the firm, N.K. Collins, of Toowoomba, is a ban on its using the 457 scheme for three years.

... recently, the number on issue has blown out to more than 100,000. Due to various factors - labour shortages in a booming economy, ruthless exploitation by some agents and employers, inadequate departmental monitoring and enforcement of seemingly strict regulations - the scheme is no longer limited to elite employees. It is a de facto cheap indentured labour scheme.

... the 18 Chinese Mongolians should be allowed to remain here while they pursue legal redress. Beyond that, whichever party wins this federal election must urgently review the 457 scheme. Amendments introduced in the last parliament - employer groups complained they were draconian - never did become law. The review should cover tougher visa criteria, fair sharing of relocation costs, and more effective departmental supervision.


Fair treatment for Victorian nurses

The ANF (Australian Nurses Federation) today urged Premier Brumby to begin negotiating in good faith with the Victorian Branch of the ANF to end the current nursing dispute.

ANF Assistant Federal Secretary Ged Kearney said the ANF is “appalled” by the Victorian Labor Government’s use of the harsh WorkChoices legislation to punish nurses.

The ANF says Mr Brumby is aware that nurse patient ratios are the most important issue at stake in the dispute and he also knows that the AIRC cannot rule on this issue.

“This is a blatant attempt to get rid of ratios,” Ms Kearney said. “It is ratios in Victoria that have attracted so many nurses back into the public system and allowed nurses to provide a high quality of patient care. If ratios are cut nurses will leave the profession and the level of patient care will deteriorate. Surely the Brumby Government understands this.”

Research by the University of Sydney, completed earlier this month, confirms two thirds of nurses would consider cutting their working hours or leaving the public health system or nursing altogether if nurse patient ratios were scrapped.

“The research by the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney revealed 73% of nurses’ workload had increased every year for the past three years, compared to 56% who were surveyed in 2003,” Ms Kearney said. “Nurse patient ratios mean that nurses can, to an extent, manage to provide safe quality care in a high pressured environment.”

This dispute shows that WorkChoices is not about resolving disputes.

“The Federal ALP is campaigning against WorkChoices in this election so it must be very disappointing to see the legislation being used against nurses in Victoria,” Ms Kearney said.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Bernie Banton: "Where was Hockey?"

Asbestos disease sufferer and activist Bernie Banton has attacked federal Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey's comments that the role of unions in the Australian workplace is over.

He said Mr Hockey's comment today was wrong and that, without the unions, asbestos victims would never have received justice.

"Where was Joe Hockey when we were fighting against James Hardie? He was nowhere to be seen.

"Without their support and their absolute total commitment to getting that deal done, we wouldn't have a deal for all those thousands of future victims.

"Without the union movement, we would have been getting absolutely diddly-squat for all those victims."

Mr Banton said another 53,000 people were going to be affected by asbestos-related disease by 2020, and 13,000 of those people would die due to mesothelioma.

"He says that unions are irrelevant? I think Joe Hockey is irrelevant, totally irrelevant to this election,'' he said.