Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Humphrey McQueen on WikiLeaks

Humphrey McQueen: WikiLeaks can help us interpret and change the world

More than 400 people crowded into a lecture theatre at the University of Technology Sydney on February 17 a public forum, “Don’t shoot the messenger: WikiLeaks, Assange and Democracy”. The forum was organised by the Support Assange and WikiLeaks Coalition.

... I’m sure you have heard the difference between interpreting the world and changing it. Sometimes people put this pair up as if we could have one or the other. We can’t. In every aspect of life, whether in science or in politics, the two activities have to go together. The way we interpret the world is by changing it. We work on it, we do something to it, and through that experience we get a better sense of where we are going. And the obverse is true: to change the world, we need to be able to interpret it. Our task is to perform both, not one or the other.

A second and related point in conclusion is in regard to the Pentagon Papers and the comparisons with WikiLeaks. There can be no doubt that the release of the Pentagon Papers helped the peoples of Indochina to defeat the US invaders. Nothing can take away from the work that Daniel Ellsberg did.
But we need to remember that Ellsberg did what he did because the US was losing the war on the battlefield. That is what he had learned by going there as a true believer. He knew that the reality of defeat was documented in these official reports and felt he had to get this information out. The reality had changed, and so had his understanding of the war. The crucial factor in ending the war was not the publication of the Pentagon Papers, as useful as many of us found them, but the refusal of the Vietnamese to surrender.

That’s what ended the war, at the cost of two million Indochinese, and 60,000 Americans and other allied troops. It was that armed struggle that changed the world in Indochina, and indeed, in many ways, changed the entire world, because the Indo-Chinese showed that even the US, the greatest power on earth, could be broken and driven into the sea.

The combination of interpretation and change that the Vietnamese and their allies demonstrated is the vision that we can take from WikiLeaks and away from this meeting ...

read more

Monday, February 27, 2012

ACTU: Unite against Abbott threat

27 February, 2012 | ACTU Media Release
The leadership of the Federal Labor Party has now been settled, and the Government must urgently focus on an agenda to improve the lives of all Australians, united against the real threat to workers’ rights and the economy of a Tony Abbott government.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the leadership debate had been a harmful distraction from the real task of securing and creating jobs and managing the economy in the interests of all Australians.

She said today’s ballot was decisive and all Labor MPs must unite behind the Prime Minister to concentrate on the real issues that working Australians and their families care about.

“Australians care about real issues facing our nation right now, such as having access to reliable jobs, with good and secure wages and conditions, and managing the economy through the challenges it faces,” Ms Kearney said.

“These issues are what unions are focused on and what the Government must focus on too, through ensuring better conditions for the 40% of Australian workers who do not have secure work, making sure the benefits of the mining booms are spread equitably and not just taken out of Australia through super profits, increasing superannuation for working people to 12%, a national disability insurance scheme, and improving the delivery of health, education, and other important services.

“Labor needs to keep the rights of workers to a decent wage and fair conditions front and centre when it makes policy.

“The Government and its MPs must now knuckle down to do the job they were elected to do.”

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the Labor Government had achieved much, including returning the rights at work which had been taken away by WorkChoices, navigating Australia’s economy safely through the Global Financial Crisis, funding Australia’s first paid maternity leave scheme, supporting manufacturing, delivering pay equity for workers in the social and community sector, tackling climate change and building the National Broadband Network.

“Australians chose to elect a Labor Government because they want a government that will stand up to business interests that are not in the national interest or who take an anti-worker line.

“Australian unions will work with the Government to deliver an agenda for working people and their families, and it is now time for Labor MPs to put aside any divisions and focus on the task at hand,” Mr Lawrence said.

“All Labor MPs should focus on the main game by getting out to their electorates to explain the government's agenda and work hard to deliver it. The alternative is a Tony Abbott-led Coalition government that would wreck this progress and is hankering to return Australia to the dark days of WorkChoices-style laws that take away workers’ rights.”

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eveleigh Railway Film Festival: 25/02/2012

The Eveleigh Railway Film Festival
Saturday 25 February 2012

is presenting  a festival of fascinating railway-related films, including our short silent drama ...


... and old silent films by J.P. McGowan (1880 - 1952) and much, much more. Plus a talk by David Donaldson of Sydney Film Festival fame on McGowan, a fascinating early Australian filmmaker who went to Hollywood as an actor and stuntman in the silent period and remains the only Australian to be made a life member of the Directors Guild of America.

McGowan - the "Railroad Man" - became famous for making thrilling, silent-era serials involving trains, and ultimately worked on over 600 films, including sound films, and with the likes of John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Rita Hayworth, Spencer Tracey, Randolph Scott -- the list goes on....

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NSW: O'Farrell attack on unions

The O'Farrell Government is seeking to undermine working people and their trade unions, with a series of new laws introduced to parliament designed to nobble trade unions and their capacity to advocate and campaign for members.

The laws are designed to impose unreasonably harsh penalties when workers take industrial action and divide unions, through the false pretext of ‘competition’.

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon, said the Government had introduced the laws with no consultation, only one day after a Commission of Audit recommended consideration of new industrial relations laws.

"This Government clearly believes unions have no right to exist and is doing everything in its power to stamp them out," Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said.
"The community has already resolved this issue - it was called the Your Rights at Work campaign. The Premier and his ministers ought to learn from that experience.
"The NSW community tell us regularly that they believe trade unions have a legitimate right to exist. Who else will stick up for their interests in the workplace?"

Today's introduction of new laws comes after the Government flagged its intention to cut staff ratios for nurses, police, firefighters and other public sector workers in yesterday's Commission of Audit.

Mr Lennon said the impact of the laws would be to undermine services to the community.
"This Government had made an art form of springing contentious and major legislation on the parliament late in the day with no consultation," Mr Lennon said.
"The Premier and his team insist on attacking public services and the people who deliver them. It has to stop."

Monday, February 20, 2012

CFMEU: ABCC last vestige of WorkChoices

CFMEU Construction National Secretary Dave Noonan said the ABCC was the last vestige of Work Choices, and its abolition was long overdue.

“The ABCC was set up by the Howard Government as part of an ideological attack on unions. It has been a $135 million waste of money, serving only to try and intimidate union members who stand up for decent wages and safety,” Mr Noonan said.

 “It has failed to tackle illegal conduct by employers, including the widespread use of sham contracting which cost the taxpayer billions each year.

 “Labor has a clear mandate to end the ABCC, having promised to do so at the 2007 and 2010 elections.

 “I congratulate Labor MPs, the Greens’ Adam Bandt and independents Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie for finally getting rid of this flawed and biased body. It is now up to the Senate to put the final nail in the ABCC’s coffin.”

 “The contributions by Liberal MPs during debate in support of the ABCC clearly show they can’t let go of Work Choices.”

 Although supporting the abolition of the ABCC, the CFMEU remains concerned that the new investigative body retains the “coercive powers” which allow construction industry workers to be subject to secret interrogations.  The powers will be retained for another three years.

 “Construction workers will be subject to coercive powers that do not apply to any other sector. Construction workers should not have fewer rights than other workers,” Mr Noonan said.

 Mr Noonan said recent revelations about the ABCC showed it had no place in a democratic society.

 “Last year the ABCC admitted it had overstepped its powers and illegally interrogated 203 people,” Mr Noonan said.

 “Last week the ABCC was forced to call an investigation into the failed prosecution of Victorian CFMEU officials John Setka and Matt Hudson. ABCC investigators admitted to having lost or destroyed evidence including audio recordings, and changed their own statements to the court.”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Holmes a Court: economy and Greece

Peter Holmes a Court in Australian Weekend Magazine 18 Feb 2011

What do you think are the risks for the Australian economy in the next decade or so?

I believe the greatest risk is if the economy becomes a "simple carb doughnut". You can make a doughnut with just a few ingredients and some sugar. It tastes OK and you feet good at the time. But not for long.

The economies that I respect are those that have maintained an educated population and are structurally diverse. Diverse economies tend to underperform in boom times but are the most resilient during times of crisis. Mining-based economies only do well during mining booms.

How do you see the EU debt crisis playing out?

People tell me the EU will muddle through. Why? Because Germany needs it to, and she can afford to help the countries doing badly. Germany has been the biggest benefactor of an artificially low euro because it includes Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. If they were all to fall out, Germany's export-oriented manufacturing base would be devastated.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

ACTU: No excuse for Corporate Job Cuts

16 February, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

Despite today’s fall in the national unemployment rate, efforts must be made to minimise job losses and big corporations should not sacrifice workers in their hunger for profits.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said big business must stop gambling with Australian workers’ livelihoods to satisfy short-term profit grabs and the interests of shareholders ahead of workers.

Mr Lawrence said the new unemployment figures removed the excuse of economic volatility from the swathe of big corporations’ recent job cuts.

The ABS today released labour force figures for January, which showed a slight drop in the unemployment rate by 0.1% to 5.1%, thanks to an increase of 46,300 jobs last month.

“Today’s labour force figures show that Australia’s economic situation is not anywhere near as dire as big employers would have us believe as they attempt to justify slashing jobs,” Mr Lawrence said.

“We need to pull together to minimise job cuts like the recent high profile announcements at places like ANZ, Toyota, Holden and Qantas, which are distressing for all workers involved and for all other workers in these sectors, whose job security is under threat by big bosses who continue to be more than profitable.

“We understand that sectors such as manufacturing, finance and aviation remain under pressure from the high dollar and other factors, as do particular regions, but it is incumbent on employers to be responsible to protect workers in context of a changing economy.

“The focus should be on assisting workers who lose jobs through structural change because of the dollar or other factors, and helping industry to transform.

“It has become too easy for employers to cut jobs and blame overseas uncertainty. If employers start slashing jobs at the first sign of difficulty then Australia cannot get through the current challenges unscathed.

“Short term profiteering brings no benefit to the economy or productivity, and comes at great cost to workers and their families.

“The reverberations of recent jobs cuts will be felt for a long time to come, so employers must think carefully about the long-term consequences of their actions.”

Mr Lawrence said job ads also increased by 6% last month, showing an increase in confidence.

“A strong economy is dependent on growth of secure jobs which will sustain demand and the fact that we have seen an increase in jobs numbers in January shows the resilience of our economy against the rest of the world.

“The challenge is now to convert January’s growth of part-time employment into full-time or permanent secure jobs in future.”

Gillard and Four Corners

Mike Carlton SMH 18 February 2012

Commenting on Julia Gillard's appearance on Four Corners Mike Carlton writes:

Cringing on the lounge, I found myself asking how her predecessors, Whitlam, Hawke or Keating, would have handled it. First, of course, they wouldn't have fronted. But if they had, they would have chopped the interviewer into cat's meat. Gillard either couldn't or wouldn't. She saved the show, but destroyed herself in the process.

In short, the government has lost that essential political tool: control of the narrative. It does not shape public debate but reacts to it, often in hapless confusion and sometimes close to panic. Take the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program, to give just one example. Designed as part of the stimulus package to get us through the global financial crisis, it was, by any fair measure, a whopping success.

It rescued the building industry from a catastrophic collapse, exactly as planned. More than 23,670 new classrooms, halls, libraries, science laboratories and playgrounds sprang up around the country, to the benefit of millions of students and teachers. Only 3.5 per cent of schools complained of a dud deal; mostly in NSW, which was not the fault of the feds but of incompetence in the state bureaucracy.

Yet the conventional wisdom, whipped along by right-wing rabble-rousers in the press and on talkback radio, is that the BER was a shambolic waste of billions. And nothing the government does or says has changed that perception - not one whit.

You get the feeling this lot couldn't sell hot pies with sauce on a cold day at a footy game.

Read more

Thursday, February 16, 2012

ABCC days numbered

16 February 2012

Legislation to dismantle the Australian Building and Construction Commission has passed the House of Representatives.

The Government plans to replace the Commission with a new agency to oversee the building industry.

Unions are concerned that the new watchdog will still have coercive powers to compel workers to answer questions.

The legislation will now go to the Senate.

The Greens want the building industry watchdog scrapped altogether, but Greens MP Adam Bandt says he still voted for the bill.

"We were able to get some amendments which we think on balance are better than the status quo," he said.

"But we just need to be clear that we wanted to get rid of the coercive powers.
"The numbers were there in Parliament, and the only reason they've stayed is because Labor wants them."

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the coalition will fight to save the ABCC "with every breath in our political bodies".

He regards the establishment of the ABCC as one of the great achievements of the Howard era.
"If we lose this fight in the parliament we will restore the ABCC at the first available opportunity."

Uranium: O'Farrell overturns 26 ban

Uranium stance raises questions and fears  [Letters: Sydney Morning Herald]

The NSW Government seems set to greenlight uranium exploration in NSW, all in the name of bringing money into the state (''O'Farrell opens door to uranium miners'', February 15).
This is the same government that dropped a rebate for renewable energy and now seems intent on making it harder for wind farms to get approval. Yet wind energy is already cheaper than nuclear power, and it and other renewables provide a cheaper, safer and faster alternative to nuclear. Nuclear is too expensive, too slow to roll out, is not in fact ''carbon free'' and poses its own large risk to future generations. Remember Chernobyl and Fukushima.
NSW should not be part of an industry that is more a problem than a solution.
Haydn Washington Middle Cove

I cannot believe the state government can even think about overturning the 26-year ban on uranium exploration.
Remembering the Jabiluka protests in the late 1990s, when more than 70 per cent of Australians were opposed to the mining and exploration of this toxic substance, how can the Premier consider allowing the first step in this polluting process that will expose local communities and the environment to a legacy of toxic waste, safety breaches, leaks and inevitably failed rehabilitation?
After Fukushima, how can we consider supplying more of this mineral to other parts of the world?
Barry O'Farrell says: "We are not about to rush into mining uranium." Please, we do not buy that.
Jocelyn Howden Glenorie

Within days of the Fukushima catastrophe, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, cancelled all nuclear activity in that country, a responsible, inspiring and strong political reaction to a proven danger. In contrast, it is depressing to see the political recklessness of a NSW government threatening our environment with the spectre of uranium exploration and mining. We urgently need politicians like Dr Merkel who demonstrate courageous and intelligent concern with their community's safety.
When our environment's gone, everything's gone.
Alf Liebhold Hunters Hill

There is a small area of Hunters Hill which is uninhabitable because of tailings from a radium processing plant there back in 1910, and nobody wants the radioactive soil from it to be buried anywhere near them.
Yet Barry O'Farrell has decided to pander to the uranium industry by proposing that NSW be opened for uranium exploration. He has no mandate for that.
The Premier has already forgotten that disaster struck the Fukushima nuclear power plants on March 11 last year. He should abandon this dangerous plan and instead face down those groups who continue to block the needed investments in renewable energy, which are safe.
Peter Murphy Surry Hills

Unions NSW: Challenge to electoral funding laws

15 February, 2012

Unions NSW is considering a High Court challenge following the likely passage of electoral funding laws through the NSW parliament that undermine the political voice of working people and make political involvement the plaything of the wealthy and powerful.

The laws impose unreasonable restrictions on unions but do nothing to silence the political megaphone of the wealthy.

"These laws are aimed squarely at working people and their unions, but do nothing to restrain the influence of wealthy individuals," Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said.

"Unions NSW will seek legal advice in the next few days about the likely outcome of a High Court challenge on the implied right of freedom of speech under the Constitution.

"The inquiry into these proposed laws only handed down its report today and was highly critical of the legislation.

"To shunt these laws through parliament within hours is an affront to everyone who gave evidence.

"We have an absurd situation where debate has been silenced on a bill that will stifle democratic involvement.

"These laws are not only unfair, they're unworkable."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vietnam: 50th anniversary remembered

Noam Chomsky

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s orders were being carried out -- “anything that flies on anything that moves” -- a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record.  Little of this is remembered.  Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

The Iraq war is an instructive case.  It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the “single question,” George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction.   When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our “yearning for democracy,” and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along.  In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system -- demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance.  And all well kept from the general population.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ACTU: Federal Budget submission

14 February, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

The protection and growth of secure jobs across the workforce must be the focus of the 2012-13 Federal Budget.

In its submission to the Budget, the ACTU says priority must be given to creating and protecting jobs – and the government must be prepared to modify its debt reduction target if economic conditions worsen to the point jobs are at risk.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said Australia’s economy had been the stand-out performer among developed nations for the past five years and had survived any shocks thrown at it, but with much of Europe mired in recession and the high dollar hurting manufacturing and export industries, there was no room for complacency.

Mr Lawrence said unions recognised strong fiscal rules, including a pathway to return to surplus in 2013, were integral in the high-successful stimulus packages that ensured Australia was almost alone among developed economies to emerge unscathed from the Global Financial Crisis.

But more recent events mean that if conditions deteriorate further, the Government must be prepared to modify its timetable for returning the Budget to surplus.

“Given the uncertain global economic environment, the government must stand ready to adjust its fiscal priorities and its planned return to surplus in order to protect jobs,” Mr Lawrence said.

“We’re not suggesting that the Government should abandon its fiscal rules, but rather that its timetable for tightening fiscal policy should be contingent on macroeconomic conditions.”

Mr Lawrence said the 2012-13 Budget must also prepare Australia for life after a commodities boom that will not last forever.

“Ongoing support to assist industries under siege from the high dollar to transform and remain competitive must be provided by the Government,” Mr Lawrence said.

“To secure the gains from the boom for the next generation of working Australians, we need to put long-term sustainable job creation at the centre of economic policy. Secure jobs that pay decent wages and have workplace rights can be built on our economic strengths.”

The ACTU submission calls on the government to implement a number of spending priorities, including:

  • Funding wage increases in the aged care sector
  • A commitment to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • Raising the Newstart allowance toward parity with the Age Pension

It says that increased revenues can be obtained from removing excessive tax breaks for large companies; reducing tax avoidance and evasion by very high income earners; and cracking down on sham contracting and unreported earnings, which costs billions of dollars of lost tax revenues.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eric Hobsbawm on Responsible Capitalism

World Radio Day 2012

United Nations – The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says the role of radio as a facilitator of education, freedom of expression and public debate will be celebrated as World Radio Day today.

“In a world changing quickly, we must make the most of radio’s ability to connect people and societies, to share knowledge and information and to strengthen understanding.

“With the ability to reach up to 95 per cent of the world’s population, radio is the most prevalent mass medium which has the ability to reach remote communities and marginalised groups at a low cost.

“It has also proven to be highly resilient as its scope and distribution platforms have grown with the development of new technologies.

“Radio is the mass medium that reaches the widest audience, especially the most marginalised parts of our societies,’’ Irina Bokova UNESCO Director General said in her massage marking the Day.

She, however, stated that “Free, independent and pluralistic radio is essential for healthy societies, it is vital for advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms. ”

The observance of they day on Feb. 13 also marks the anniversary of UN Radio, which was launched in 1946.

UNESCO stressed the importance of radio as a vital source of information during natural disasters, and as a central instrument in community life with the potential of mobilising social change.

UNESCO noted that worldwide, up to one billion people still do not have access to radio, naming Nepal as  example, where it said that almost one fifth of the people live in areas without radio coverage.

ACT: Attacks on Kim Sattler

In an interview with the Sunday Canberra Times, the UnionsACT secretary Kim Sattler said she had solid support around the country following criticism about her involvement in the tent embassy unrest but was worried about "parcels on my doorstep" now a white supremacist group knew of her unlisted address.

"These people are very dangerous," Ms Sattler said.

"The letter I received was stomach churningly disgusting - crazy, lunatic, racist.

"It uses the words 'coon' and 'boong'. It attacks Jews."

The Australian Federal Police confirmed it was looking into the case after being told about it last Monday. A spokeswoman said the AFP was considering whether to investigate the anonymous hate mail.

Ms Sattler would not describe the way the letter threatened her.

"It's with the police now," she said.

She said the letter did include a copy of the White Australia policy.

Ms Sattler has received hundreds of messages of support.

US: Monsanto court case

Little did Willie Nelson know when he recorded “Crazy” years ago just how crazy it would become for our cherished family farmers in America.   Nelson, President of Farm Aid, has recently called for the national Occupy movement to declare an “Occupy  the Food System” action.

Nelson states, “Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil…”

Hundreds of citizens, (even including NYC chefs in their white chef hats) joined Occupy the Food System groups, ie Food Democracy Now, gathered outside the Federal Courts in Manhattan on  January 31st, to support organic family farmers in their landmark lawsuit against Big Agribusiness giant Monsanto. (Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v. Monsanto)        Oral arguments were heard that day concerning the lawsuit by 83 plaintiffs representing over 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers, and organic seed businesses.

The lawsuit addresses the bizarre and shocking issue of Monsanto harassing and threatening organic farmers with lawsuits of “patent infringement” if any organic farmer ends up with any trace amount of GM seeds on their organic farmland.

Judge Naomi Buckwald heard the oral arguments on Monsanto’s Motion to Dismiss, and the legal team from Public Patent Foundation represented the rights of American organic farmers against Monsanto, maker of GM seeds, [and additionally, Agent Orange, dioxin, etc.]

After hearing the arguments, Judge Buckwald stated that on March 31st she will hand down her decision on whether the lawsuit will move forward to trial. more

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kell & Rigby and job losses

Unions NSW 10 Feb 2012

Unions call for urgent jobs meeting to ensure working people don't bear the brunt of downturn

The loss of 500 jobs and the possible collapse of construction company Kell & Rigby is an alarming sign about jobs in NSW and requires the Premier's urgent attention, Unions NSW said today.

Kell and Rigby - one of NSW's oldest construction companies - announced yesterday that it was close to collapse, leading to 500 job losses.

It caps a difficult fortnight in which close to 1000 jobs have been lost in NSW, including 190 at Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of Mortein and 200 jobs at Westpac.

"The Premier promised to create 100,000 jobs, but in the last fortnight, we've seen massive hits across building, finance and manufacturing, the three sectors that make up the engine room of the NSW economy," Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said.

"In the first instance, we need the Premier to intervene to keep Kell & Rigby afloat. NSW simply can't afford to lose companies like Kell & Rigby that create employment for hundreds of people with families to support and mortgages to pay.

"We're also seeking an urgent meeting with the Premier to discuss the future of jobs in NSW.
"It's clear that NSW is suffering from being in the slow lane of the two-speed economy.
"Unions are on the frontline and are watching job losses across the economy. We have an important contribution to make to ensure there is jobs growth in NSW.
"We call on the Premier to sit down with working people to work on ways to grow the NSW economy."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Dangerous O'Farrell magistrate campaign

Premier O’Farrell’s campaign against Magistrate Pat O’Shane represents a threat to the independence of the judiciary in NSW. In the Sun-Herald of February 5, 2012, he is reported to say: “The police need to have confidence the judiciary is supporting them in keeping our streets safe”. As well, the Sun-Herald said: “Mr O’Farrell has left the Judicial Commission in no doubt the state government will be watching its decision closely”.

However, political leaders cannot direct the Judicial Commission, and neither is it the duty of the judiciary to “support” the police. Rather the judiciary is to independently administer the laws passed by the parliament. The alternative is a rubber stamp judiciary and a police state.

In the Sydney Morning Herald (Feb 8, 2012), two former ambulance officers, reacting to the disputed Wililo case involving an alleged assault on an ambulance worker, demand that Magistrate O’Shane retire to ‘protect her dignity’. Yet their own article demonstrated that between 1999 and 2011, Magistrate O’Shane would have dealt with 39,000 cases, of which 56 cases were appealed to the Supreme Court.

They provide no data on other magistrates, but doubtless, all of them face appeals against some of their decisions. Magistrate O’Shane’s record seems unremarkable, until one notes that she has been the object of attack by elements of the NSW police for two decades.

She is the subject of a political campaign, and deserves the support of the citizens of NSW.
It is important to note that the appropriate response for people who disagree with Magistrate O’Shane’s decision on the Wililo case is to seek an appeal.

The Judicial Commission does not act on complaints which can be dealt with by appeal.
When the Judicial Commission did investigate Magistrate O’Shane in 2006 in relation to a case where she had a person put into custody for contempt of court (the Makucha case), it found in her favour.

On February 7, the NSW Bar Association issued a statement: “The Premier’s statements to the effect that police and ambulance officers should have the support of the court system when assault charges are laid do not accurately reflect the role of the courts. The courts exist to determine matters on the evidence before them without fear or favour, not to support any particular group within society. …The Association urges the Government to exercise caution in its public statements concerning judicial officers, as its recent statements have been couched in terms that undermine public confidence in our system of justice and the rule of law.”

VIC: 1516 Hospital Bed Closures

The Baillieu Government had more than one and a half thousand public hospital beds closed across Victoria between 23 December 2011 and 25 January 2012.

The figure is more than double the number of beds nurses closed during the peak of their industrial action between 12 and 26 November 2011.

The beds, closed for all or part of the period between 23 December 2011 and 25 January 2012, included intensive care beds, paediatric beds, surgical beds, coronary care beds and sub-acute beds.

The Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) will publish the ‘Baillieu Government bed closure toll' regularly to ensure transparency and accountability in the lead up to any ‘new bed' announcements the Government makes to fulfil its election promise to open 800 new hospital beds.

Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said: "The Baillieu Government must revise its election promise - it doesn't just have to open 800 beds, it now has to open 2316 beds.

"ANF's bed audit is a biopsy of the health system and the diagnosis is grim. Our hospitals are very sick and failing the people of Victoria. If the Baillieu Government keeps underfunding hospitals the only thing left to do will be an autopsy of the health system," she said.

ANF is also counting closed public hospital beds in response to the bed closure outrage expressed by Premier Ted Baillieu, Health Minister David Davis and senior public hospital executives during the nurses' recent industrial action.

On 14 November 2011 Health Minister David Davis in an interview with Neil Mitchell on 3AW 693 said: "Clearly lives are at risk as hundreds of beds are closed."

Ms Fitzpatrick said: "This Government's legacy will be Baillieu's health lottery. The gamble is will you get a bed, will you get your surgery and will you get a nurse with three-years training or a health assistant with three-months training looking after you?

"Shutting 1516 beds is unacceptable from a government that says closing beds risks lives," she said.

"Hospitals have been forced to close beds, even whole wards, to meet the Baillieu Government's budget cuts. Victorian hospitals haven't had one and a half thousand beds closed because patient demand has dropped dramatically," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"This can't be explained by a ‘realignment' of hospital services. There aren't fewer people attending emergency departments. People don't suddenly have fewer strokes in January. People still have medical conditions requiring hospitalisation," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"Approximately 40 per cent of the closed beds were surgical beds. We accept surgeons take a break, but summer holidays would not account for all of these surgical bed closures," Ms Fitzpatrick said.

"ANF is confident the AMA will share nurses' and midwives' concerns about the closure of so many hospital beds because the doctors have also been keeping a tally on the Baillieu Government's bed closures and ward closures and have continually called on the Government to reveal where its promised new beds will be delivered," she said.

"The Baillieu Government expressed public outrage and provided daily details about the number of closed beds during the nurses' industrial action. Where's the Government outrage when it has 1516 beds closed?" Ms Fitzpatrick said.

ABCC case falls in heap

A criminal case against two unionists facing major charges has collapsed spectacularly after the evidence of building industry watchdog inspectors was called into question.

Magistrate William O'Day said there had been ''significant conflicts in some of the evidence the court has heard'' as prosecutors yesterday agreed to drop 13 of the 15 charges against John Setka and Matt Hudson over an incident on a Carlton building site in 2009.

Instead Setka and Hudson agreed to each plead guilty to a minor charge of behaving in an offensive manner in a public place.

Setka is the assistant state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMU) while Hudson is no longer with the union but was a senior official at the time. Both men faced a range of serious assault-related charges that could have resulted in jail if they were convicted.

But prosecutors agreed to drop most of the charges after 2½ days of the committal hearing.
Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) inspector Mathew Keene admitted during the hearing that he destroyed his original notes from the incident and that he had not kept sunglasses that he had claimed had been forcefully removed from his head.

Defence lawyer Rob Stary said the ''manipulation of evidence, the destruction of evidence'' when even put in its most charitable light was ''disturbing''. He said the case highlighted the need for an inquiry into the ABCC, which he said had ''no role in the industry''.

He said police should not have been put in the position where ''industrial disputes are criminalised''.

CFMEU state secretary Bill Oliver said the watchdog had been ''revealed to be running a vendetta against Mr Setka'' but were unable to ''deploy it with any sort of competency''.

The timing and result of the case was embarrassing for the ABCC with Parliament this week debating a move by the Gillard government to abolish it and replace it with a new regulator with reduced powers.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

ABCC dodgy inspectors

Inspectors from the building industry watchdog have admitted they destroyed or lost important evidence in an assault case against two senior building union officials on a Carlton building site.

The admissions from the Australian Building and Construction Commission inspectors came as part of a committal hearing to decide whether John Setka and Matt Hudson should stand trial for allegedly attacking the inspectors in March 2009.

The case has political significance with the Gillard government seeking to abolish the ABCC and replace it with a new regulator with watered-down powers. The Coalition and employer groups want the watchdog kept, saying there is a culture of "lawlessness" in the industry, particularly in Victoria, where the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has received massive fines.

Inspector Mathew Keene, under questioning by Robert Richter QC, representing Mr Setka, admitted that he destroyed the notes he took after the 2009 incident.

Mr Keene said he never identified himself as an inspector to the unionists and said it was because "they never asked".

Mr Richter asked Mr Keene whether as a "building policeman" with coercive powers he should have disclosed his role. Mr Keene was questioned at length about the March incident and said it was common for inspectors to be called "dogs" by the CFMEU.

Mr Keene said the identification around his neck was thrown into his eye by Mr Hudson and that Mr Setka tried to forcefully remove the sunglasses from his head. But he also admitted he had not kept the sunglasses as evidence.

Mr Setka, current assistant state secretary at the CFMEU, has been anointed to be its next leader while Mr Hudson is no longer with the union.

A second inspector at the site, Shaun Hardwick, said he recorded events at the site with a digital recorder but due to a malfunction the recording was lost. He said he was able to transcribe the tape before the malfunction, evidence queried by Mr Hudson's lawyer.

Both inspectors have since left the ABCC and the committal hearing continues today.

■Yesterday, in a separate decision in the Federal Court, Justice Gray described as "sloppy" some of the investigative practices of the ABCC into an incident at Bendigo Scaffolding. He dismissed the case against the CFMEU and ordered the watchdog to pay the union's costs.

ACTU: Banks Show Narrow Self Interest

07 February, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

Australia’s big four banks cannot justify refusing to pass on in full any cut to official interest rates by the Reserve Bank today given they last year reported a combined profit of $25.2 billion.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the combined salaries of the four major banks’ CEOs totaled $28.6 million. This, along with the massive profits makes it impossible to feel any sympathy for their complaints about their financial circumstances.

“At the same time, the big four banks last year slashed 3300 jobs and already in the first month of this year, Westpac and ANZ have announced plans to shed another 730 jobs between them,” Ms Kearney said.

“If the big banks are desperately in need of tightening their belts, a good place to start would be with their CEO’s salaries. They earn in a year what most Australians take a lifetime to generate, yet it is interest paid on mortgages taken out by workers that allow their profits to grow.

“Those workers include their own staff, whose jobs they so readily cut in pursuit of their addiction to continual profit growth.

“Last year, the big four banks made profits of $25.2 billion – easily more than the rest of the banking sector combined - and they now have a greater share of the home lending market than before the Global Financial Crisis.

“They have squeezed competition out of the market, and are now using their market power to squeeze working Australians.

“It is crocodile tears for the big banks to be crying poor and even to be contemplating refusing to pass on an interest rate cut at the same time as they are hurting so many workers’ livelihoods. Should they carry out this threat, they deserve to feel the full weight of a community backlash.

“If the banks cannot behave in a socially responsible manner, it may be time to consider stronger government regulation to drive greater competition, improved consumer protections and more sustainable corporate behaviour in the banking sector.

“Banks should be required to reflect the interest rate movements set by the Reserve Bank and to fully justify any variation. They should also be required to demonstrate a direct link between their fees and charges. Banking is an essential service and the interests of consumers are not being properly protected.

“Banks have a central responsibility in maintaining Australia’s economy that goes beyond their narrow self-interest.”

Historic Equal Pay Victory

From Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon

I would like to congratulate the Australian Services Union (ASU) on their historic victory in the equal pay case. One that the entire union movement should acknowledge and celebrate!

The ASU has achieved a remarkable result thanks to their outstanding campaign supported by the whole union movement.

In an historic decision Fair Work Australia (FWA) has awarded ASU members equal pay. In a decision handed down in Melbourne at 12 noon on Wednesday February 1st 2012. FWA ruled to implement the agreement that had been reached between the ASU and the Australian Government – the Queensland rates of pay for everyone.

"This is a time in a generation – a day for all women to celebrate" said ASU Secretary Sally McManus

In summary the Tribunal decision means that: •

  • The work of social and community service workers has been undervalued on the basis of gender.• 
  • The rates of pay should be significantly increased • 
  • The rates of pay should effectively be the same as the Queensland rates of pay • 
  • The new rates should phase in over an 8 year period not a 6 year period • 
  • The graduate entry points for 3 and 4 year graduates should be increased one pay point on the new Modern Award scale so that they are the same as the Queensland Award 

Congratulations to all involved.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Abbott's unfair work act

Tony Abbott has flagged changes to the Federal Government's workplace laws if he were elected prime minister, but has stopped short of saying what he would change.

"We will change the act. They will be careful, cautious, responsible changes, and we will announce them in good time before the next election," Mr Abbott said.

"I certainly think there is a flexibility problem," he said of the Fair Work Act.

"There is a militancy problem, and above all else a productivity problem with the Fair Work Act."

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said Labor redressed the imbalance from the coalition government's WorkChoices policy, taking it to the middle of the road.

That legislation is now under review by a panel of three experts.

Mr Shorten said the facts contradicted Mr Abbott's appraisal, as productivity had fallen under the former coalition government.

"Just because the Libs say 'trust us, we're Liberal, productivity will go up" isn't supported by facts," he said.

"When conservatives use the term flexibility, what they actually mean is that if you're poor ... you should take a pay cut.

"Why is it in Australia, coalition DNA says that the only way that the rich can get richer is by low-paid workers getting penalty rate cuts?"

Sunday, February 05, 2012

ACTU: Social Responsibility of Banks

Sunday, 5 February 2012 ACTU

Australia’s banks must pass on in full any cut to official interest rates by the Reserve Bank this week or they may need to face not only a community backlash but the prospect of greater regulation.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said Australians already had a right to feel cynical about the big banks’ self-interests, after two of the largest four lenders began the new year by announcing more job cuts totaling hundreds of jobs.

“Having recorded booming profits and rewarded their CEOs with generous pay rises, Australia’s big banks are not struggling,” Ms Kearney said. “It is crocodile tears for them to be crying poor and even to be contemplating refusing to pass on an interest rate cut at the same time as they are hurting so many workers’ livelihoods.

“Should they carry out this threat, they deserve to feel the full weight of a community backlash.

“Last year alone, all four big banks slashed a combined 3300 jobs and ANZ and Westpac now plan to cut another 730 jobs between them.

“These are huge numbers but every single one of them represents somebody’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter and it is likely that many of them have to somehow pay a mortgage and meet other financial commitments.

“For these workers, a failure by the banks to pass on any interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank will be another blow by the banks that have already ensured tough times ahead for them.

“The national accounts last year showed that profits as a share of national income were at a record levels, while wages’ share fell and remains at its lowest for more than 40 years.

“If the banks cannot behave in a socially responsible manner, it may be time to consider stronger government regulation to drive greater competition, improved consumer protections and more sustainable corporate behaviour in the banking sector.

“Banks should be required to reflect the interest rate movements set by the Reserve Bank and to fully justify any variation. They should also be required to demonstrate a direct link between their fees and charges. Banking is an essential service and the interests of consumers are not being properly protected.

“Australia’s finance sector is growing and the Australian economy is far better placed to ride out the economic storms hitting Europe than just about any other in the world right now.

“But every time a worker loses a job, there is one less person who is able to invest in the nation’s economy. Banks have a central responsibility in maintaining Australia’s economy that goes beyond their narrow self-interest.

“The also have a community responsibility to ensure that Australians, battling increased costs of living and higher house prices than just about ever before, can afford to pay their mortgages.”

Mining industry plans for Australian Press

This week mining billionaire Gina Rinehart became the largest shareholder in Fairfax, having already bought a stake in Channel Ten. But this new video reveals this move is bigger than one woman’s ambition – it’s part of a coordinated and very deliberate strategy, with climate skeptic ‘Lord’ Monkton seen here advising a room full of mining executives on how the industry must gain control of Australia’s media.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Equal Pay and Corporate Hysteria

Employers must move on from old-fashioned ideas about women’s work and make a genuine commitment to overcome the 18% gap between men and women’s pay.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said mean-spirited employer groups who immediately attacked yesterday’s landmark Fair Work Australia ruling on pay equity for social and community sector workers had had shown their true colours and would prefer women were paid unfairly than catch up with modern values.

“Are employer groups really advocating that we stay in the dark days where women were treated as second class workers?” Ms Kearney said.

“It is an absolute shame that on the day when we see the end of decades of undervaluation of the work in the sector dominated by women, employer groups are acting as if the sky is going to fall in.

“With comments such as this is a “disturbing” decision that needs to be “quarantined”, business is clinging to outdated ideas of the past that devalue the role of women in the workforce.”

Ms Kearney said suggestions the ruling affecting social and community sector workers would lead to a flood of fresh claims in other sectors was nothing more than scare-mongering.

“This case, led by the Australian Services Union in conjunction with other unions, was a very complicated one, which took two years to run,” she said.

“You cannot just cut and paste the decision into other sectors. However, where there are injustices occurring then of course those injustices should be addressed.

“The Fair Work Act replaced a draconian set of laws that took away the rights of Australian workers.

Yesterday’s ruling is a clear indication of why we need good, fair laws in place so that all Australian workers can receive fair pay and conditions.

“This shows the equal remuneration provisions in the Act are delivering on the promise of equal pay, which is a workplace right and a human right.  Equal pay was endorsed by the Federal Labor Government well before yesterday’s ruling, fully awarding its share of the funding, with a $2 billion commitment.

“Now those state and territory governments who have not already committed to their share must do so.

And employers must also commit to this decision because the reality is Australia has moved on from old-fashioned ideas of women’s work.

“Fair Work Australia recognised gender played a part in the lower pay rates of community and social workers compared to public sector workers, so employers simply cannot keep singing from their same old tired songsheet.”

Fair Work Australia’s ruling will mean social and community sector workers will receive pay increases of between 23% and 45% over the next eight years, beginning on 1 December. The pay increases will phase in at between 2.5% and 5% a year, depending on salary level.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Unions + Jack Thompson : Indigenous Skills Training

01 February, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

A new partnership between unions and the Jack Thompson Foundation will aim to deliver better outcomes for Indigenous Australians through new skills and job training opportunities.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence, who announced the partnership alongside renowned actor Jack Thompson in Melbourne today, said the alliance would empower indigenous Australians and their communities, through a strengthened skills base within local communities.

“The Jack Thompson Foundation is already doing fantastic work in this area, training young indigenous people in construction trades so that they can use their skills to build homes in their local areas,” Mr Lawrence said.

“We know how important it is to ensure we have a skilled workforce, which means the needs of communities are met, but also so that individuals have a chance to contribute to their communities and to earn a living.

“Unions have long been committed to improving the outcomes for our indigenous Australians and just last year developed the Indigenous Action Plan 2011-13, which includes a focus on improving employment opportunities.

“The Action Plan is consistent with Australian unions’ commitment to justice, rights for all workers and a more equal society.

“Our values align closely with those of Mr Thompson and his foundation, so when we had the opportunity to create an alliance with the group, we immediately agreed.”

Mr Lawrence said one of the partnership’s immediate goals would be to secure more apprenticeship opportunities for young indigenous Australians.

“The partnership will work closely with unions in the trade and education sectors to explore training pathways for young people in remote communities,” he said.

“We will also investigate secondment opportunities for trade training mentors into remote townships where Jack Thompson Foundation projects are being undertaken.”

Mr Lawrence said the partnership would consult closely with Indigenous communities in developing all projects and their aims.

Mr Thompson said: “Partnerships with all Australians are the way forward in closing the gap of disadvantage. By working together, all Australians can work to help impoverished communities seek a better life for their children and their communities.

“This partnership with the ACTU is exciting and it is essential for the ongoing achievement of the Jack Thompson Foundation’s aims, to provide trade-recognised skills that will enable remote Indigenous communities to house and support their needs now and into the future”.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

UnionsNSW: Stop Power Generators sale

New analysis by unions has shown that selling off the State's power generators will deliver only $1.7 billion - the equivalent of $18 million per electorate - a drop in the ocean that will not solve the State's infrastructure backlog.

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said the paltry financial return for selling major public energy assets showed the folly of the sale.

"When you break this sale down, you quickly realise the State is hocking major infrastructure for a pittance," Mr Lennon said.
"$18 million per electorate will deliver little more than a major roundabout and yet we will lose vital public power generators and their revenue streams.
"The Government needs to abandon this ill-conceived sale and put the public interest front and centre of this debate.
"$18 million is nowhere near the $500 million we estimate is needed on average in each electorate over the coming decade."

Industry sources have valued the state’s power generators at $5 billion, but once debt is included, the final proceeds will be as low as $1.7 billion.
Domestic and international evidence has also shown that private ownership of energy generators leads to higher prices in the end for consumers.

"Working people in NSW deserve a Government that protects their financial and economic interests, particularly in uncertain times," Mr Lennon said.
"There's overwhelming community opposition to this sell off and the Government needs to abandon it immediately,"