Saturday, August 31, 2013

United Voice: Save Our Aussie Weekend!

Monash Review of Queue For Jobs

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) today welcomed the release of a new Monash report as an important contribution to the debate on temporary visa policies and jobs for young Australians.

The report titled “Scarce Jobs: Migrants or Locals at the end of the Queue?” is from the Monash Centre for Population and Urban Research and was authored by Bob Birrell and Ernest Healey.

“The Monash report vindicates the Government’s 457 legislation passed in June 2013 giving Australian workers more protections in the 457 visa program,” said Dave Noonan, National Assistant Secretary of the CFMEU.

The 457 legislation imposes a legal obligation on certain employers to advertise jobs and show no suitably qualified and experienced Australian workers are available, before 457 visas can be approved. The Government said this Labour Market Testing obligation would come into effect in November 2013.

“This new employer obligation to genuinely search for Australian workers is vital to protect jobs for young Australian workers, because nearly one-half (47%) of all 457 visas are now going to foreign nationals under age 30 - 33,400 out of 70,630 in the year to September 2012, as unpublished DIAC data shows’, Mr Noonan said.

“Mr Abbott has a clear duty to explain why he opposes a robust Labour Market Testing system in the 457 program to protect jobs for young Australians, and whether he plans to water down this vital protection if the Coalition is elected.”

The Monash report also shows that tighter regulation of other temporary visas was urgently needed to adeqautely protect jobs and training opportunities for young Australians, especially the Working Holiday Maker Visa (WHMs) program that is running out of control.


UK Parliament: Vote Against Bombing Syria

Last night in the Commons a great switch was thrown in the national psyche and nothing may ever be quite the same again. This is not a left-right shift, but a long-delayed acceptance that Britain is less powerful and poorer than it was, weary of wars and no longer proud to punch above its weight. No more pretending, no more posturing.

As the true meaning of end of empire sinks in, great questions follow. Why continue to spend more than comparable countries on defence? Why do we (and France) still squat in UN security council seats? What is the point of Trident, dependent entirely on the closest allegiance to America?

Consider the breadth of opposition to a Syrian intervention. First come the British people, two to one against war, with YouGov finding opinion hardening. Outside the gates of Downing Street stand Stop the War demonstrators. Biting at the heels of anxious Tory MPs comes Ukip's Nigel Farage accusing Cameron of "his greatest misjudgment yet" and gloating that his anti-war stance is "the single most popular thing Ukip's ever said". Now add in warnings from the assemblage of military top brass (retd).

Only Murdoch's Sun and Times hold the Cameron line, minding their owner's US interests. In the FT, Janan Ganesh, George Osborne biographer and confidant, opposes an attack, in line with his forecasts of what a future triumphant small-state Tory party would do, ruling out the expense of military adventures.

Labour's determination to make strict conditions on legality and objectives is what you would expect under a leader whose first act was to repudiate Iraq. Behind him sit benches of MPs bitterly regretting their vote for that war. Let Dame Tessa Jowell, one-time passionate Blairite, stand as bellwether for that sore lesson: she has been re-reading her verbatim notes of the cast-iron but false assurances ministers were given back in 2003. For many who were there, as for Miliband who was not, this is the chance to show that solemn lessons have been learned.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Corporate Culture and the Coalition

30 August, 2013 | Media Release

The ACTU is warning of a sharp rise in Patrick-style attacks on workers’ jobs and conditions under the Coalition’s policy of supporting employer-only greenfield agreements.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the situation at Glencore Xstrata's Collinsville mine, where the company will shut the gates on hundreds of mineworkers tomorrow to replace them with a cheaper workforce, would be repeated many times over.

All 400 workers have had their employment terminated with the company vowing not to reopen the North Queensland mine until it can slash work conditions under a greenfield agreement or individual contracts.

“The timing of this dispute immediately ahead of a federal election is no coincidence,” said Mr Oliver.

“This is not a genuine greenfield situation, it’s simply that operations are being brought back in-house.

“This should be dealt with under transmission of business provisions which allow for workers to hang on to their work conditions when a business changes hands.

“But Glencore is banking on a change of government a week after it shuts operations and sacks workers – a government that will back them by promoting anti-worker greenfield agreements and individual contracts.

“This is just like the waterfront dispute where Patrick sacked its workforce to replace it with a cut-price one.

“That dispute was the precursor to WorkChoices and Patrick’s actions were backed by the Coalition Government in which Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz were senior members. A leopard doesn’t change its spots.

“Collinsville is a long way from most of us, but all Australian workers should be very worried about what’s happening to the mineworkers at Collinsville and the implications for the rest of the workforce.”

Mineworkers at Collinsville have been given termination notices effective Saturday. There are fears Glencore will hire commuting workers from outside the town, leaving the existing workforce unemployed and the community of Collinsville without the jobs that sustain it.

“If people want to complain about militancy in Australian workplaces, they can look at employer behaviour like this as a good example,” said Mr Oliver.

“We need governments that will stand up against this sort of bullying, not back it in.”

Portugal: Workers' Victory Against Austerity Job And Pay Cuts

Portugal’s constitutional court has ruled that legislation enabling the government to fire public sector workers who cannot be retrained is illegal, blocking a reform that Lisbon sees as critical to meeting the terms of the country’s €78bn bailout.

The ruling announced on Thursday night came only five months after the court rejected public spending cuts of up to €1.3bn, forcing the government to rewrite this year’s budget to meet deficit reduction targets agreed with international lenders.

The decision to reject the bill on “public sector requalification”, which would have allowed the state to lay off workers permanently after they spent a year in reserve, means the government will have to rewrite a reform package aimed at cuts totalling €4.7bn.

It is the third time in just over a year that the court has rejected important government reforms that it judged to contravene the constitution.

Arménio Carlos, leader of the CGTP-Intersindical, Portugal’s largest trade union confederation, welcomed the court’s decision, saying the government had been given “three red cards in a year” and should resign.

The rejected bill was part of an extensive reform package agreed with the troika that seeks to make “permanent” cuts in public spending by cutting back state services and potentially laying off tens of thousands of public sector workers, particularly teachers and clerical staff.

In a letter sent to the troika in May, the government said it envisaged saving €894m over three years by retraining state employees and terminating job contracts.

The bill envisaged sending home workers that the government judged to be excess to requirements on reduced pay – 63 per cent of their salary in the first six months and then 50 per cent.

If they were not retrained and reallocated to other jobs within a year, they would, according to bill, have continued to wait for work without any pay or agreed to terminate their contracts with a right to compensation and unemployment benefits.

However, the court ruled that the bill contravened Portugal’s constitution, partly because it failed to uphold workers’ rights to employment stability. Joaquim Sousa Ribeiro, president of the court, said the government had “aggressively” changed the rules for retraining workers without providing precise motives.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

St Vincent De Paul Election Statement

Australia needs an Anti-Poverty Strategy Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon said:

“Nearly 13 per cent of our population is living in poverty, including over half a million children.
“The members of the St Vincent de Paul Society cannot be silent about what we see every day in prosperous Australia, especially in the lead-up to a Federal Election. We can’t remain silent about the people in our midst who live in a state of permanent recession, who have had the doors of opportunity slammed shut in their faces.

“We want to know what Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott plan to do to significantly reduce poverty. We reject the argument that people are to blame for their own poverty. Or that poverty will decrease simply by making the economy stronger. In fact, we argue that we cannot build a strong and sustainable economy if we abandon 2.3 million people to a life of poverty.

“We support helping people into the paid workforce. The time has come, however, to abandon the foolish notion that forcing them into deeper poverty via the meagre rate of the Newstart payment, improves their chances of employment.

“The unemployment benefit has not been increased in real terms since 1994.Our researchishows that the CPI is a completely inadequate guide for indexing benefit or wage increases for low income households, especially if they are renting. Low-income families with three kids facing price rises 8.7 per cent greater than the official CPI.

We therefore urge both sides of politics to:

  • Increase Newstart by $50 a week.
  • Introduce a method of indexing Social Security payments that will enable low-income
  • households to keep up with cost of living increases.
  • Outline plans for effectively assisting people into employment instead of punishing them or treating them paternalistically.
  • Abolish compulsory income management as a costly and paternalistic programme that fails to address the causes of poverty.
  • Increase Rent Assistance.
  • Outline plans to increase access to social and affordable housing.

Religious leaders make climate change an election issue

26 August, 2013

Religious leaders representing the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Catholic faith traditions have entered the election campaign debate by calling on both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott to wind back coal exports and recognise the moral implications of inaction on climate change.

The leadership have written an open letter to the Australian people and released a video calling on both leaders to “step up to the plate”.

“This is a spiritual issue, it’s a moral issue and it’s an ethical issue,” said Rev Brian Brown, Moderator Uniting Church Synod. “With our current Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, the fact that they're devout Christians, gives us ground to speak with them and challenge them on this as a Christian issue. That’s also why our recent Uniting Church Synod passed a resolution to withdraw our investments in companies that mine fossil fuel.”

“Carbon pricing must be given bipartisan support,” said Sr Annette Cunliffe rsc, President Catholic Religious Orders Australia. “In this current election campaign, churches have a right and a duty to speak up about these kinds of moral issues.”

“Inaction on climate change will doom the planet,” said Rev Elenie Poulos Uniting “the science is in and it’s very clear, our moral responsibility is to act to end the devastating effects of climate change. If we fail to act that’s a failure of moral leadership.”

“If I could say just one thing to Mr Abbott and Mr Rudd it would be this; please step up to the plate and
don’t make this just a political issue, because it no longer is,” said Rabbi Kamins. “I hope politicians can find that place of deep humanity within their faith – or whatever moral system they have – to understand they represent not just an electorate for the next two to four years, but for the whole of humanity.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins – The Great Synagogue

Keysar Trad – on behalf of Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, Grand Mufti of Australia

Sr Annette Cunliffe rsc – President, Catholic Religious Australia

Julie Macken – Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thanks Rupert Murdoch... but we'll choose our own government!

ACT: Nurses accept new wages offer

Canberra nurses and midwives have reached an agreement with the ACT Government over their pay and conditions for the next four years.

The nurses had threatened industrial action after the Government offered a 2 per cent pay rise.

The Government's revised offer is better than inflation and improves some conditions, including the penalty for night shift work.

The offer also involves a flat rate increase for less experienced nurses and a percentage increase for senior nurses.

Australian Nursing Federation secretary Jenny Miragaya says the offer is better than inflation and avoids the cuts to nursing numbers experienced in other states.

"I think its a very good outcome considering the financial constraints on the ACT Government and also considering the current political environment," she said.

"To come up with an offer that is actually recognising and renumerating the public sector nurses and midwives in the ACT, but also without a threat of job cuts, has been an excellent outcome.

"Certainly when we look at our state colleagues, I think that this is a very acceptable offer."

Countering Corporate Culture: Shell and the Arctic

Education and the election - Dollar for dollar?

From Maurie Mulheron
President NSW Teachers' Federation

The election on September 7 will provide Australians with an opportunity to determine how schools are funded in Australia.

There is now a clear choice. Teachers, principals and parents can either have a fully funded six year growth model that commits both the state and federal governments to jointly provide additional funding or a four year model which does not require the state government to make a contribution.

The real Gonski funding model is a formal national agreement signed between the NSW Liberal/National State Government and the Federal ALP Government, which provides certainty for all schools for six years, with two-thirds of the funding scheduled for the final two years. Both governments have to commit to additional funding for the six years.

This agreement requires states to maintain, rather than cut, their education budgets for six years, to grow the schools education budget by 3 per cent and to allocate funds to schools according to need, based on student enrolment profile.

However, the Federal Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, announced a pretend ‘Gonski’ model, which is one-third of the funding, for only four years, which does not require the State Government to stop the education cuts, which does not require states to grow their education budgets at all, and which does not require states to allocate funds according to student need.

As the election approaches, it is clear that the Federal Opposition is attempting to neutralise schools funding as an issue.

On August 2, Mr Abbott announced he was on a “unity ticket” with Mr Rudd on schools funding. Going further, he claimed that he was going to match the ALP’s commitment “dollar for dollar”. But this claim does not hold up to scrutiny. As Maralyn Parker, education writer for the Daily Telegraph, wrote in her column on August 15, “The [Liberal/National] Coalition has not matched Labor’s school funding policy. There is no ‘unity ticket’ on schools funding, as Tony Abbott claims.”

Later in the same article Ms Parker explains, “Abbott’s plan is to copy only the first four years of Labor’s Gonski school funding reform plans, investing only $2.8 billion. This is not even a half Gonski. It misses the bulk of the $10 billion in federal funding that would go to the most needy Australian schools under Labor’s six-year schools funding plan.”

We have provided in this edition of the journal data for all federal electorates covering NSW. Using the funding figures that were the basis for the national agreement signed by the NSW Government, Federation determined how much each electorate should receive under the full six year agreement. By calculating the federal component of that figure using the 65:35 split between the federal and state governments, it is possible to calculate how much schools would lose out on under the Abbott ‘one-third’ model. Readers are invited to peruse the figures for their

This election provides an opportunity for Federation members to send a clear message to all politicians to commit to the full Gonski model for all six years. Our children are worth this commitment.

NSW: O'Farrell's salary cap changes for teachers shot down

Rod Brown
Acting Assistant General Secretary (Research and Industrial) NSW Teachers' Federation

A bid by the O'Farrell Government to discount the Commonwealth's compulsory 0.25 per cent superannuation guarantee increase from the state's 2.5 per cent public sector salary cap has failed.

On August 21 the NSW Legislative Council voted to disallow the NSW Government's Industrial Relations (Public Sector Conditions of Employment) Amendment Regulation 2013, which had the intent of overturning a decision of the Full Bench of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) that superannuation was separate to the wage cap.

The disallowance motion, moved by the ALP and supported by the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers parties in the Legislative Council, was carried by 21 votes to 16. It has the effect of upholding the IRC's decision allowing for the full payment of the 2.5 per cent salary increase.

The Government must now either pay the full 2.5 per cent salary increase as well as the additional 0.25 per cent superannuation increase to all NSW public sector employees including teachers or appeal the decision of the IRC to the NSW Supreme Court.

The Shooters and Fishers Party, which supported the original salary cap laws, has since fallen out with the O'Farrell Government. The party's Robert Borsak has stated that superannuation was not part of the original agreement, and the O'Farrell Government's bid to include it via an amendment was another example of it being "untrustworthy".

"You give them an inch and they take a mile," Mr Borsak said.

While the Government has said it would appeal the IRC decision if its amendment fails to pass, ALP Shadow Industrial Relations Minister and NSW upper house member Adam Searle has said that there is no automatic appeal right from a NSW IRC Full Bench ruling.

Mr Searle has said the Government would have to argue in the state Court of Appeal that the decision should be quashed on jurisdictional error grounds, which he suggested is a "high barrier" to overcome.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Abbott and Turnbull "Fraudband"

There’s a new story taking off online and in the news: what happens when you try to sell “Abbott’s internet” to the world. We didn't want you to miss out – so here it is.

We know most Australians don’t buy The Abbott and Turnbull “fraudband” because it will consign Australia to the digital dark ages for decades. We don’t want it here, so we took it to the streets overseas to see if anywhere else in the world would take it. The results were shockingly hilarious:

Not only will Tony Abbott’s plan stunt our economic growth and productivity, it already has the world laughing – most of which already has much faster internet than Australia. How can we expect to remain competitive?

It’s no wonder that when we tried to sell it in places like Romania the locals wouldn't have a bar of it. If Tony Abbott’s internet is not good enough for them, why should it be good enough for Australia?

If you care about having 21st century internet – which is really about our quality of life, first rate health services, innovation in business, education and more – then the one thing you should do today is share this video with everyone you know who uses the internet (that’s basically everyone).

Susan George - 2013 Wheelwright Memorial Lecture

What: ‘The Growing Power of Illegitimate Authority’, 
2013 Ted Wheelwright Memorial Lecture by Susan George
When: 6-7.30pm, Thursday 29 August
Where: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney

Renowned political activist Susan George to discuss the ‘Illegitimate Authority’ of transnational corporations

One of the world’s leading political thinkers and human rights activists, Susan George, will speak out against the growing influence of “illegitimate” corporate power in a keynote address at the University of Sydney this Thursday 29 August.

In her only public appearance while in Australia, the France-based political economist will take aim at the potential threats to democracy posed by transnational corporations (TNCs), and the underhanded methods by which they sway government decision-making, as presenter of the 2013 Ted Wheelwright Memorial Lecture.

At a time when multi-billion dollar corporations such as Apple and Google Australia have come under fire for abusing tax havens in Ireland, the need to curtail the authority of bodies that are not democratically accountable for their actions is paramount, George will argue.

“It isn’t just their size, enormous wealth and assets that make TNCs dangerous to democracy,” George said. “As the late Professor Ted Wheelwright often pointed out, it’s also their concentration, their capacity to influence, indeed infiltrate governments and their ability to defend their interest as a genuine international social class.”

In her talk, ‘The Growing Power of Illegitimate Authority’, George will also consider the rising prevalence of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and their related ‘investor-to-State dispute resolution’ provisions.

“These allow investors—by definition TNCs—to sue governments if they believe that their prsent or even ‘expected’ profits are harmed by any government measure,” she said.
For decades, George has been an outspoken public voice on a variety of international issues, including global inequality, corporate globalisation, food insecurity, genetically modified organisms, tax and debt. She has authored sixteen books on these themes, including her most recent publication Whose Crisis? Whose Future? (2010).

In her current role as president of the Board of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, George’s latest work examines the ongoing effects of the European financial crises, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - a deal she describes as “the most important free trade agreement ever drafted” that will set the parameters for half the world economy’s gross domestic product.

Labor: Garden Island Naval Base

Key points on the naval base story:

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Garden Island naval base could be shut down.
  • Says Labor government would set up task force to look at shifting Garden Island's Fleet Base East role to locations including Brisbane and Perth.
  • Says Australia needs to shift its defence posture to the north and the Asia-Pacific.
  • Relocation could be complete by 2030.
  • Rudd says there will also be new naval jobs in Darwin, Townsville, Cairns, as well as redevelopment at Garden Island.
Treasurer Chris Bowen says any decision to shift the navy's centre of gravity north won't be taken lightly.

"Let's be clear, there will be costs for moving to the north, you don't build a fleet base for nothing," he said.

"And there's potential benefits from developing Garden Island [as something other than a naval base], so both of those things would counteract each other.

"This isn't a government revenue-raising measure, this is a sensible measure that is good for economic development in the north, good for the economic development of Sydney, and a more sensible place for our Defence Force posture."

ACOSS plan for Family Benefits

The Australian Council of Social Service has unveiled a new modelling detailing a path for making Australia's Family Tax Benefit system fairer - by better targeting payments to families that need support the most and simultaneously reducing poverty.

"We know there are nearly 600,000 children currently living in poverty in Australia and the recent annual report of the longitudinal study of households (HILDA) showed that it increased by 15% since 2001. This is simply unacceptable in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

"Our family payment system performs the vital dual roles of helping prevent child poverty and treating low and middle income families with children fairly by taking account of the costs of raising children in the tax-transfer system. We do not consider assisting low and middle income families with children as ‘middle class welfare'. However, it urgently has to be reformed if it's to prevent even greater levels of poverty.

"The family payment system is in urgent need of repair, having strayed from its primary goals over the past decade and increasingly been used for purposes that are not well targeted, such as the Baby Bonus, the Schoolkids Bonus, and the ‘Part B' payment for single-income couples.

"These two bonuses should be replaced with the savings not to be used to restore the budget bottom line, but instead used to restore the budget bottom line of low and middle income families.

"We want to see the savings from the Baby Bonus rolled into increased Family Tax Benefit A payments for preschool children aged 0 - 4, and the savings from the Schoolkids Bonus put into higher Family Tax Benefit A payments for school age children aged 5-18.

"Under our proposals, modelled by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), around 50% of low income families (about 600,000 thousand families) in the bottom two quintiles would be on average around $1300 a year ( $25 a week) better off.

"Among the bottom 40% of families, three out of four families would receive higher payments. Sole parents, most of whom have low incomes, would particularly benefit with 71% better off.
"This reform, together with our proposed $50 a week increase in Newstart Allowance for single people, would help to offset recent payment cuts for sole parents fully reliant on income support.

"Our modelling using ‘cameos' of low income families with children of different ages shows that half currently fall below the poverty line. We found that three of these families currently below the poverty line (2 sole parent cameos and 1 couple families) would be lifted above the poverty line by the proposed changes.

"We call on the major parties to take the issue of poverty seriously and commit to restructuring the confusing Family Tax Benefits system as part of an anti-poverty plan for our nation.

"In these times of significant economic challenges, and falling revenues, we need to go ‘Back to Basics', with government assistance targeted to those who need it. Our proposals do not complete reform, but they take us in the right direction.

"ACOSS and our members across Australia's community welfare sector look forward to working with all parties and the next government in advancing such reforms," Dr Goldie said.

Western Sydney Teachers long view of school funding

Teacher representatives from across western Sydney gathered at Hawkesbury Lookout on the edge of the Blue Mountains to hear the latest developments in the Guarantee Gonski campaign and to speak out against the cuts to Gonski funding supported by local Coalition MPs and candidates.

The choice of venue was significant.

If you stand at Hawkesbury Lookout, face east and take in everything for as far as the eye can see, you are looking at communities that collectively will have over $850 million dollars of Gonski funding stripped out of their public schools under the Abbott education plan.

To the south, you can see the Lindsay electorate where Coalition candidate Fiona Scott is committed to stripping $42.6 million from public schools. To the north and at your feet is the Macquarie electorate, where sitting MP Louise Markus would oversee the cutting of $34 million in Gonski funding.

The city rises out of the suburbs on the horizon, and in the foreground you can see large sections of the Chifley and Greenway electorates where Coalition candidates will strip another 83.3 million out of some of the region’s most vulnerable school communities.

The President of the Nepean Teachers Association, Sarah Willett said that Coalition candidates in western Sydney were not serious about needs-based funding.

“Just a few weeks ago Fiona Scott criticised the Government for ‘back ending’ the implementation of Gonski. She said there would be many older students who would miss out.”

“Now, under the Abbott education plan, years five and six don’t matter at all.”

Ms Willett was concerned that the Coalition could commit to a 10 year plan to invest $6.7 billion in a Queensland roads project, but dismissed the full implementation of Gonski as off in the “never, never”.

“Why won’t they commit to the full 6 year Gonski deal? Is it because they never believed in Gonski?” she said.

The Presidents and Secretaries of the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains, Lower Blue Mountains, Nepean, St Marys-Mt Druitt and Blacktown Teachers Associations each wrote to their respective Coalition MPs and candidates seeking an explanation about the cuts to the NSW Gonski deal under the Abbott education plan. None had received a considered reply at the time of calling the extraordinary meeting at Hawkesbury Lookout.

The Labor candidate for Macquarie Susan Templeman attended the event to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to schools funding reform and to address the concerns of constituents about Abbott’s cuts to Gonski.

Those present also launched the Federation’s Electronic Billboard which will be broadcasting Gonski Guarantee advertisements and images at targeted sites over the next two weeks.

CFMEU sets precedent for FIFO action.

The CFMEU has had a historic High Court win for Fly in fly out workers concerned about taking industrial action.

Workers living in employer-provided housing can now make a decision to take strike action, unburdened from the threat of having their accommodation taken away.

Five High Court judges recently unanimously upheld a union appeal regarding FIFO workers who had their accommodation stripped away after going on strike.

The strike involved construction giant Mammoet who were working on Woodside's Pluto LNG project on the Burrup Peninsula, near Karratha in north-west WA. The union was attempting to bargain for a new enterprise agreement to supersede an existing greenfield agreement.

The construction site workers were FIFO workers, who typically worked for 28 days and then travelled home for seven days before returning on the next ‘swing’.

The High Court found that the provision of accommodation for these FIFO workers wasn't a payment in relation to the protected industrial action, and therefore the company wasn't prohibited from providing accommodation during that period.

In contrast, the Australian Mines and Minerals Association is dismayed by the decision. The AMMA chief executive Steve Knott described the ruling as ‘absurd’.

‘It appears that under these laws union bosses can now organise strikes and have their members effectively work on their suntans around the swimming pool, all the while the employer is not only haemorrhaging millions of dollars a day in lost production but is also obliged to keep them with catering and accommodation,' Knott says.

Monday, August 26, 2013

MUA: Paddy Crumlin Opinion Piece

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review that addresses false claims made by the oil and gas industry companies.

Paddy Crumlin talks about the oil and gas industry at last month's FPSO Conference in Sydney.
Executives in the oil and gas industry are currently advancing a raft of false claims that cloud a more fundamental choice: should Australian workers now and into the future live in a sustainable society for all like the Australia of today or, as the industry and its Coalition allies appear to desire some more degraded version?

On behalf of my members, I make no apologies for establishing a decent standard of living for workers in the oil and gas sector who often work up to 14 hours per day in physically challenging and high-risk occupations that are compounded by the stringent emotional demands of almost total isolation from their families. Those decent standards don’t just mean wages, which, by way of accuracy, have averaged a modest five percent increase over the last decade. In fact, wages for MUA members have risen 10% less than the increases in average Western Australian wages (covering all industry sectors and occupations) over the last decade.

In the same vein, we seek to establish safety standards. Our inspections, unseen to the public, work to ensure vessels are seaworthy and safe to operate. Cranes, alarm systems, navigation equipment, life saving equipment, communications equipment, and health and hygiene in galley are among the many issues reviewed. Inspectors check to make sure workers are not exposed to the asbestos on imported vessels.  The so-called costs under attack as excessive equally apply to maintaining those standards of risk mitigation.

Companies like Chevron, and its Coalition allies, talk a good game of “family values” but, then, attack basic standards in place for years. Our members often work 35 days at sea without a break; sometimes, four grown men share a cabin half the size of an ordinary bedroom. Those men simply want up-to-date technologies on board to communicate, in the few hours open to them at sea, with loved ones.

Tony Abbott’s attack on the swing shift is another example of his ignorance about workers’ lives in this and other isolated mining and construction sectors. Offshore workers are at sea for five weeks. Ships aren't prisons. They come off in what occupational therapists and psychologists have identified as advanced states of accumulative physical and emotional fatigue. They switch with other workers, ensuring a fresh, efficient workforce who are forced to fly many hours to get to their jobs where they labour under arduous conditions. These standards apply not only to seafarers, but all workers in these types of isolated operations including offshore management who, in most cases work much lesser intervals, some as little as two weeks at a time.

So, where do the costs really come from? Unsurprisingly, in an echo of mismanaged industries globally, lets take a peak at the pockets of a few executives.

Pick any company—ExxonMobil, Chevron or Royal Dutch Shell—and you will find pay and benefits packages that make every CEO a fabulously rich man, at least by ordinary Australian standards. Chevron Chairman and CEO John Watson raked in a heart stopping $3.5 million cash bonus for the oil company's big profit in 2012--$26.2 billion in 2012, the second-largest profit in company history.  Last year, Woodside Petroleum CEO Peter Coleman took home $7.2 million in compensation.  Mr Abbott would have more credibility if he announced an overview of their wage increases over the last 10 or 20 years instead.

By comparison, the workers who beaver away at the core operations receive comparatively microscopic financial returns, but, given Mr Abbott’s comments, they are in for another round of political bashing and bullying under a government led by him. Deja vu of the Howard era for Australian workers.

Since union density on Gorgon project is under twenty percent, and MUA members account for just 10 percent of the 5,000 workers, it’s not credible to blame labour’s wages and conditions for high costs. It's just another cheap shot by a corporate elite growing immune from criticism themselves. A cheap shot charged with the political opportunism of the election.

As president of the International Transport Workers Federation, I regularly deal with companies that trade in the offshore oil and gas industry globally. They do business here in Australia because they have access to resources they can’t easily find elsewhere, and can employ skilled, trained workers. Anthony Albanese has correctly pointed out that seven of the world’s twelve ­largest LNG projects are being built in Australia, and we will be the largest world producer in the near future. Those businesses choosing to go other places do so based on other, non-labour cost development strategies or they simply aren't considered good enough to win tenders based on rules put in place by the majors oil companies. Ironically Chevron’s senior management has been the only one that refuses to talk to me other than by press release.

So, when the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, the Australian Mines and Metals Association and Tony Abbot’s wingmen rant about high costs using false claims, make no mistake about it: the goal is for all Australians, not just my members, to be paid at degraded levels and work under safety and other conditions conducive to the risk that spewed oil at some of their companies operations in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Brazilian coast.

It's perplexing when senior executives call on  more transparency and balance in our IR system, backing that call with spurious facts and distortions of what their workers earn and how they really work.  The conclusion must be drawn that this plea is really a highly political play about preserving their own personal and special elitism while decreasing corporate accountability for the national assets Australians own and they manage.  Hardly a basis for much maturity and balance going forward.

Labor: corridor for fast trains

A Rudd government would also introduce legislation to protect a corridor for fast trains between Australia's two largest cities, and would establish a high-speed rail authority within six months to manage the project.

The money would not be enough to buy the required land, but Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it would enable a start to building a line that could be operational within 17 years.

''There are some people that say this won't occur but wouldn't it be a tragedy if, as the economics of a project like this improve over time, it becomes impossible because the planning and foresight wasn't there,'' Mr Albanese said.This is the second federal election Mr Albanese has promised money for high speed rail initiatives.

In 2010, Mr Albanese committed $20 million for a study into a fast train service. It found that such a line would ultimately be profitable but only after the government had contributed the bulk of $114 billion in construction costs to link Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.

In response, Mr Albanese set up an advisory group whose report, released on Monday, says high-speed rail could be built faster and cheaper than the earlier study had suggested.

It also called for the creation of a high-speed rail authority and legislation to preserve a corridor, recommendations Mr Albanese says he will adopt.

That study said construction of a high-speed railway lin  between Canberra and Sydney could start in 2022 and be running by 2030. The travelling time between the two cities would be a little more than an hour on trains travelling up to 350 km/h.

A Melbourne-Sydney link (travel time 2 3/4 hours) could by running by 2035.

Regional stations are also proposed, including at Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton.
Mr Albanese said the new high-speed rail authority would be set up in six months and would have an independent board and chief executive.

''What I want to do is to be realistic and thoughtful and considered about this – there's no doubt in my view that high speed rail should be part of Australia's infrastructure future,'' the minister said.

The Greens want to fast-track the project and spend $1.2 billion on it in the next four years. The Coalition's transport spokesman, Warren Truss, has previously raised concerns about cost of high-speed rail.

The government says the $52 million will be spent on a  business case and market testing of cost estimates, and possibly include some land acquisitions.

The minister said a growing population would make a fast train more feasible.
''Over a period of time it becomes more economically viable than it is today,'' he said.

The Real People who Built the West

A Western Suburbs union get together 
Tuesday Aug 27, 10am-noon, 
CFMEU 12 Railway St, Lidcombe
Followed by bbq

At the moment in the struggle for a plumb parliamentary job, there is an argument around who built the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

While this question relates very closely to Australia’s future and the quality of life of its people, the voices of the real people who built Western Sydney - the buildings, the houses, and the transport infrastructure - have all but been ignored.

Former workers remember that the conditions we share today were no gift. We are concerned that traditional forms of labour moment action and involvement - that go back to the end of the convict system, the introduction of the 8 hour working day, and the right for Australian women to vote - are being ignored.

If you are concerned about the potential attack on conditions that were established by rank and file workers, their unions and local organisations, come to a meeting tomorrow sponsored by retired Western Suburbs Workers where you can have a say on election issues that concern you.

Organisers would like to see and hear from former Chullora, Flemington Clyde Railway workers, Bankstown aircraft workers and printers from the Herald about their current issues.

Yes it is on Tuesday Aug 27, 10am-noon, at the CFMEU, 12 Railway St, Lidcombe, followed by a BBQ.

Introduced by Senator Lee Rhiannon, from the Greens, and CFMEU Assistant Secretary Rebel Hanlon - The Unions' Election policies.

The meeting will also discuss and plan for a protest against the Murdoch media.

Further Information from: Brian Dunnett  Former Railway Shop Steward

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

TEPCO and Fukushima leak crisis

Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged Aug. 21 that water contaminated with radiation that leaked from a storage tank at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may have reached the ocean.

As it reels from this latest blow, TEPCO announced moves to deal with what it called a "crisis situation."

The surface of a drainage ditch near the tank where the leak occurred had radiation readings of 6 millisieverts per hour. The ditch is directly connected to the ocean to the south of the No. 4 reactor.

Highly radioactive water was detected about 50 meters east of the tank where the leak was confirmed. The water was about 650 meters from the ocean. The concrete drainage ditch is about 2.2 meters wide and 1.2 meters deep.

Workers who checked the ditch on Aug. 21 noticed a stain that indicated contaminated water may have flowed down the ditch. While the surface of the ditch had radiation readings of 6 millisieverts, the reading at a height of 1 meter was 0.06 millisievert per hour.

The radiation was lower than the water surface of the tank containing the contaminated water. That led TEPCO officials to believe the radiation of the leaked water may have become diluted after mixing with rain.

TEPCO officials had said previously that no water from the leaking tank appeared to have reached the ocean. Sandbags had been placed around the leaking tank to prevent contaminated water from spreading.

A working group of the Nuclear Regulation Authority held a meeting on the evening of Aug. 21 to discuss the new crisis. An NRA official suggested the leak in the tank was coming from a crack on the bottom.

Although there had been suspicions that water had leaked from the connected areas held together by bolts, there are no signs such a leak occurred.

The NRA group instructed TEPCO to determine the cause of the leak without delay.

The remaining water in the tank that leaked was moved to another tank around 9 p.m. on Aug. 21. TEPCO is frantically trying to determine precisely where the leak took place as well as its cause.

It pledged to make greater efforts to monitor other tanks for possible leaks.

At an Aug. 21 news conference, Zengo Aizawa, TEPCO executive vice president in charge of the nuclear power division, apologized for the latest tank leak and said, "The problem of contaminated water is the largest crisis facing management and we will place priority on dealing with the issue."

He said he would remain full-time at the Fukushima plant site to take charge of the problem.

TEPCO announced measures to collect dirt contaminated by the water as well as to improve the monitoring of the tanks. The company also indicated it would review the organization now set up to deal with decommissioning reactors and handling the contaminated water.

There are about 350 storage tanks similar in structure to the one that leaked. Most do not have meters to measure water levels inside.

Doubts about the reliability of those tanks were also raised because inspections for leaking before the tanks were used were conducted in the rain.

TEPCO officials have said they will inspect all of the tanks.

24 August Politics in the Pub

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wage Justice - Major Pay Increase for Apprentices

Apprentices will have up to an extra $145 in their wallets following a major decision by the Fair Work Commission today that recognises they have been underpaid for far too long.

A Full Bench of the FWC has awarded significant pay rises to first and second year apprentices as well as people who start apprenticeships as adults. New apprentice pay scales to come into effect from the start of next year will see the wages of a first year electrician rise by $108, a carpenter by $72 and a hair dresser by almost $145.

The decision is the result of a case run by the ACTU and unions as part of the biennial review of Modern Awards.

Unions had argued that apprentice wages had failed to keep pace with the changing nature of the workforce, which now has more people beginning traineeships as adults, rather than straight out of school.

Fifty per cent completion rate

The low rates of pay have been blamed for the abysmal apprentice completion rate of about 50%, which was acknowledged by the Commission in its decision.

“The modern award safety net should better reflect the reality of the current day apprenticeship intake,” it said. “It must also take into account relative living standards and the needs of workers who must within the community be considered to be low-paid. We consider that the present rates of pay in the awards do not provide a fair and relevant safety net for apprentices and that an increase in the first year rate is appropriate.”

Before today’s decision, a first year apprentice carpenter would get a base rate of $317.75 a week – boosted by some allowances – while a 20-year-old fast food worker on the junior Award rate would be on $599.49. That’s a difference of $281.74. The pay rise will see pay rates for first year apprentices rise to 55% of the relevant Award rate from as little as 35% in some industries. People starting apprenticeships over the age of 21 will be entitled to 80% of the rate of a tradesperson.

Raising apprentice pay is an important part of the solution to the skills crisis in Australia.
“This is a great outcome for current and future apprentices and for the broader economy,” said ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver. “Almost half of people who embark on apprenticeships don’t complete them, with the very low wages a major factor contributing to drop-outs.

“Current wages see apprentices barely able to meet living costs; they are considerably less than other job options and barely more than the Newstart allowance. There is also little recognition of the needs of adult apprentices. Today’s decision is a real step forward.”

However, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said while the FWC had accepted the reality that lifting apprentice wages would help to attract and retain trade apprentices, it missed the mark by not including all current apprentices.

AMWU President Andrew Dettmer noted it would only apply to new apprentices beginning their training next year, and not to current apprentices. And no adjustment had been made to the age at which an apprentice is deemed to be an adult, which is still 21.

Mr Oliver said fixing the apprenticeship system was crucial to boosting the skill level of the Australian workforce to drive productivity and prevent future skills shortages.

“To boost skill levels, we need to increase participation and completion rates in vocational education and training. Raising apprentice pay is an important part of the solution.”

Employers slam decision

But while unions are praising the decision as delivering both some wage justice and a boost to skills, some employer groups immediately criticised it.

The chief executive officer of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Anderson, said it was “a body blow” to the capacity and confidence of employers to offer new apprenticeships.

“Dramatically increased employment costs will cruel the capability of employers to take on apprentices in an affordable way,” he said. “Increasing the costs of employing an apprentice not only impacts employers, but destroys the opportunities for many young people want to develop a career in the trades.”

But the Commission did not accept this argument, and said any cost increase would be offset by the benefits of a more skilled workforce.

“We have come to the conclusion that the rates of pay for apprentices may be increased without having a significant adverse effect on business or the national economy,” it said.

Corporate Culture - Sydney Airport : 10 years Tax Free!

Sydney Airport has paid no tax in the 10 years since it was privatised by the government.
While other international gateways such as Melbourne and Auckland are also held in private hands and regularly pay corporate tax, the last time Sydney Airport paid tax was before its sale to Macquarie Bank in 2002.

Not only has the company that controls the airport continued to structure its affairs so that it has no tax liability, it has won a tax benefit also.

An examination of Sydney Airport Corporation's financial accounts since its first full year of privatisation in 2003 shows the airport booked almost $8 billion in revenues during that time and gained tax benefits of almost $400 million. Although its report for June 2006 shows an entry of $425,000 for corporate tax, the picture is clouded by the complexity of the financial statements which includes a tax gain of $137 million in the interim accounts for that year.

In light of the potential sale of Australia Post, Medibank Private and assorted state-owned electricity assets after the election, Sydney Airport's failure to contribute to the national coffers lends another weapon to the armoury of those who oppose privatisation.Further, it reflects the profound dilemma aggravating governments around the world; how to compel recalcitrant corporations to pay their fair share. Google Australia for instance is yet to contribute any meaningful corporate tax in this country, despite earning billions.

Google routes its revenues through low-tax jurisdictions such as Ireland. It paid a miserly $74,000 in 2011 on sales estimated in the order of $2 billion.

In its profit results handed down on Thursday, however, Sydney Airport Corporation makes Google look like a half-decent corporate citizen.

If it chose, Sydney Airport could pay down its enormous $8.5 billion debt and deliver a bottom line profit. However, it would then be required to pay tax on that profit. Interest is tax deductible. As the airport is a monopoly asset and an essential service with stable revenues - unlike most other companies - it can afford to carry extremely high debt. In the event of a default, the government would be forced to step in anyway and bail out the airport, so the corporate risk poses little danger to air services at Mascot, only to taxpayers.

While Sydney Airport has been no ringing endorsement for the benefits of privatisation it has been a monumental success for bankers and investment bankers.

The Macquarie consortium paid $5.6 billion for the asset in June 2002. The deal was a raging success, returning $2 billion of the original equity put up by the partners in just four years. It has delivered more than $1 billion in fees.

Macquarie even managed to garner a fee of $345 million just to walk away from managing the airport in 2009. Still, present management and the board, despite this legal separation four years ago, continue to hold strong ties to the mothership.

And the aggressive modus operandi has not changed one iota. The airport delivers high returns. Although its tax bill is zero, and the asset is ''cash-flow negative'', the airport's financing costs - which now exceed $700 million a year - soak up all the profits.

It is the Macquarie clients and associates - bankers such as Commonwealth Bank and security holders - which enjoy that $700 million plus.

Read more:

NSW: NT Aboriginal leader to address Bankstown protest

Rally 3pm Friday August 23
Bankstown Station North Side
corner Fetherstone st and North Terrace - opposite Compass Centre

Say NO to Government Income Management
Not in Bankstown, not in the NT, not Anywhere!

Stop the targeting of marginalised youth

Speakers include:

  • Barbara Shaw, Aboriginal leader from Alice Springs living on income management
  • Steve Caslick, Industrial Officer Public Service Association (NSW)
  • Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon
  • Representatives from the Say No to Government Income Management campaign coalition

Income management quarantines 50 per cent of the Centrelink payments of certain groups. The system was first forced on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory as part of the NT Intervention. Now Bankstown is also being targeted as the only “trial site” in NSW.

Since July, the scheme has been rolling out to young people going through hard times. Youth who are “unable to live at home” because of abuse and young people exiting prison are being forced onto income management.

Barbara Shaw, an Aboriginal leader from Alice Springs, is traveling to Bankstown to speak out against income management at the protest on August 23:

“Income management has made it much harder to look after my family and has made our social problems and the racism we face much worse. More than $500 million has been spent on income management in the NT - a disgusting waste of funds when my people are in such desperate need”.

The campaign in Bankstown is making a real difference. The government wanted 1000 people on the system in Bankstown every year, but after more than 12 months there were only a handful on compulsory income management. The Public Service Association (PSA), who represent Child Protection workers in Bankstown, have voted to ban income management and have made no referrals.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Abetz lets slip Coalition’s real IR agenda

22 August, 2013 | ACTU Media Release

Eric Abetz has confirmed today that an Abbott Government will try and stop workers getting pay rises above inflation unless they give up conditions.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said Mr Abetz’s comments in The Australian this morning that the Coalition would demand “excessive” wage rises include productivity reforms should ring alarm bells for workers, particularly given his comments on penalty rates.

“It is unbelievable that a Coalition Government would try and tear up agreements negotiated freely between workers and employers if they do not meet their version of what is an acceptable pay rise,’ Mr Oliver said.

“This is an attack on enterprise bargaining, on workers’ rights to negotiate a fair pay deal and another layer of the red tape that the Coalition claims to oppose.”

“What should really concern workers is what exactly does Mr Abetz mean by the “productivity trade-offs” that workers will have to make in order to get decent pay rises?

“The answer is loss of penalty rates and other conditions, which will leave workers worse off.”

“This is not a productivity improvement – it is simply taking money from the pockets of low-paid workers. “

“The Coalition voted against enshrining penalty rates in legislation, and Mr Abetz would not defend them today. He says he’ll leave it up to Fair Work Australia to decide on penalty rates but won’t say which side a Coalition Government would back.”

“We know that business groups have already tried to use Fair Work Australia to reduce penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of workers, and that they will try again if a Coalition Government is elected.

“Workers need a government that is committed to protecting penalty rates.”

“Tony Abbott is doing his best not to talk about IR during this election campaign – he won’t even tell us what the terms of reference will be for his Productivity Commission inquiry into the IR system.

“It must be very concerning for the Coalition that Eric Abetz’s honesty is undermining Tony Abbott’s attempts to hide his IR agenda from workers.

“I expect Mr Abbott’s spin doctors will be having a quiet word with Mr Abetz this morning, before putting him back in hiding for the rest of the election campaign.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blue Mountains: Teachers Gonski Meeting

Teachers from across the Macquarie electorate will gather at Hawkesbury Lookout this Thursday at 4.00pm to hear the latest developments in the Guarantee Gonski campaign and speak out against the indifference of sitting MP Louise Markus.

If you stand at Hawkesbury Lookout, face the city and take in everything for as far as the eye can see, you are looking at communities that collectively will have over $850 million dollars of Gonski funding stripped out of their public schools under the Abbott education plan. Of course, under Abbott’s education plan non-Government schools will also lose about two-thirds of money currently committed in the Gonski deal.

Last week, Teachers from the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury wrote to Ms Markus seeking an explanation. There has been no reply.

Candidate Susan Templeman has agreed to attend the event to respond to the concerns of constituents in Macquarie about Abbott’s cuts to the Government’s Gonski funding reforms.

The full six year implementation of the Gonski  reforms will attract $ 74.7 million to public schools in the Macquarie electorate.

However, by supporting the Abbott education plan, Ms Markus is committed to stripping $34 million from the total federal funding currently allocated to public schools in her electorate under the Gonski deal.

As it stands, the Abbott education plan:

  • cuts short the six year Gonski deal by two years,
  • strips $3 billion from the $5 billion NSW Gonski deal between the Federal Government and the State Coalition Government, and
  • Reopens the Australian Education Bill 2013, thereby threatening both the legislative framework that underpins the new needs-based funding model and the requirement for state governments to increase their investment in education.

Hawkesbury Lookout has been chosen so teacher representatives from both the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains can come together. They will also be joined by delegations from the Lindsay and Greenway electorates.

Event: A gathering for Gonski – taking the long view on schools funding
Where: Hawkesbury Lookout, Hawkesbury/Springwood Road at Hawkesbury Heights
When: Thursday 22 August at 4.00pm

MUA: Global Seafarers Bill of Rights

As the Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC) comes into the force the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) has promised to dedicate all its resources to helping it make real changes to the lives of all seafarers. The ITF recognizes the MLC as the first ever true bill of rights for those working at sea, and its president today described its going live as “a significant leap forward.”

The ITF has worked alongside shipping organizations, the ILO and governments for over a decade to jointly create and shape the MLC, and is committed to monitoring and assisting its implementation and persuading many more countries to ratify it.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin stated, “The MLC represents a significant leap forward in the global trade union campaign to improve the labor rights and labor standards of seafarers. It is a true watershed in international shipping, which adds the pillar of workers’ rights to existing standards of safety, security and crew standards.”

He continued, “For nations in the Asia Pacific region, which supplies the majority of the world’s seafarers and where the bulk of global sea trade is concentrated, the MLC will underpin new seafarer employment opportunities and is a key plank in the global shipping regulatory framework designed to secure the future of a high quality and competitive shipping industry.”

ITF acting general secretary Stephen Cotton added, ‘We now have a bill of rights for seafarers – including those on international cruise ships – that sets out the right to a safe and secure workplace; fair terms of employment; decent living and working conditions; access to medical care, health protection and welfare and to freedom of association.”

He continued, “It has been a hard-won victory to reach this moment. Now the same coalition of the ILO, unions, maritime organizations and governments have to continue to jointly build on and support the convention, and make sure that as many countries as possible ratify this landmark piece of legislation.”

NSW: Family and Community Services Workers Demo

Family Services caseworkers from across the Hunter have walked off the job in frustration on the back of a month of negative reports about the lack of effective child protection in the region.

More than 25 frontline workers from NSW Department of Family and Community Services offices at Charlestown and Edgeworth protested outside Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell’s office at Charlestown at 12.20pm on Tuesday.

Workers carried placards and demonstrated for about an hour to highlight high vacancy rates, lack of resources, computer problems and frustrating red tape that is preventing face-to-face work with vulnerable children and families.

‘‘‘The state government needs to address staff shortages and have vacancies filled on a permanent basis,’’ Public Service Association regional organiser Paul James said.

‘‘There’ s a massive volume of red tape. Case workers are spending hours filling out forms.’’

About one in four children at risk of significant harm is seen by a caseworker in the Hunter and Central Coast, according to government figures released earlier this month.

The region has also experienced some of the greatest shortages of caseworkers in the state, with Raymond Terrace, Mayfield, and Edgeworth particularly affected, a leaked report prepared for the Department of Family and Community Services reveals.

Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward released figures that show 28.2 per cent of children at risk of significant harm in the region were seen and assessed by a caseworker between July 2012 and the end of March this year.

The Hunter protests were in conjunction with a series of stop-work meetings across the state.

The industrial action follows media reports last week which revealed NSW is short about 270 caseworkers, leaving children and young people at risk.

‘‘The PSA want Andrew Cornwell to be aware of the issues and place pressure on Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward,’’ Mr James said.

CFMEU: Strong Support for Yallourn workers

Trams came to a halt in Bourke St this morning as unionists rallied behind 75 operators locked out of Yallourn Power Station.

The members of the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division have been without income since June 21 when Energy Australia stood them down for refusing to accept a new EBA that would give them no say in shift rostering or dispute resolution.

The operators, family and friends and members of the CFMEU’s Construction Division and other unions marched from City Square to the company’s offices.

Outside 385 Bourke St speakers, including ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver, CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor and Fr Bob Maguire, condemned Energy Australia’s refusal to negotiate.

CFMEU Construction Secretary John Setka declared that “this company needs to realise that they are not taking on 75 workers but 110,000 CFMEU members.”

“This China Light and Power Company (Energy Australia’s owners) might think they can come down here and treat workers like this but we’re not gonna cop it.”

Energy Australia’s militant approach and callous disregard for the workforce have ensured this dispute has taken on a broader significance. We cannot allow workers who are only asking for some basic consultation over their working conditions to be hung out to dry and starved back to work.

You can help by sharing links about this issue with your networks and switching electricity provider if you are with Energy Australia (make sure you let them know the reason).

Earlier the CFMEU members were the subject of a disgraceful allegation that they had something to do with a fire in a circuit breaker just after the lock out began. This smear was allowed to circulate by Energy Australia management and splashed across the front page of the Herald-Sun.

The fire was an accident, propbably caused by poor maintenance, but the workers have never received an apology.

Abbott's TPV Plan

The Coalition has announced that they would reintroduce temporary protection visas (TPVs) if elected to government. It comes as part of their package of measures designed to deter asylum seekers from asking us for help.

TPVs were first suggested by Pauline Hanson in 1996. Her proposal was criticised by Philip Ruddock as “unconscionable”. Three years later, TPVs were introduced by the Howard Government; Ruddock was immigration minister.

TPVs suffer from a couple of serious vices: not least that they are likely to cause more deaths at sea – something both major parties claim to be concerned about.

TPVs provide asylum seekers with three years’ protection only, and they deny the visa holder the right to be reunited with their family. If one member of a family makes it to Australia and satisfies the authorities of their status as refugees, then it is likely that other members of their immediate family are also refugees.

Under Howard, the TPV regime made it impossible for those people to bring their families out to Australia to join them. The circumstances which justified their protection make it impossible for them to return to their country of origin. Even meeting with their family in a third, neutral, country was impossible because if a holder of a TPV left Australia for any reason at all, they were denied re-entry.

Under the scheme, a person who is accepted as a refugee, and is given temporary protection, has to re-establish their claim for protection each three years. Consider the consequences: the TPV holder cannot return to their country of origin, because of a fear of persecution. But they cannot put down roots in Australia because they do not know if they are here to rebuild their life, or just "parking". It is difficult to imagine that a person who is just being "parked" here will contribute as much to the community as one who has been given protection to enable them to build a new life.

The second vice is that TPVs provide a powerful incentive for refugees to use people smugglers, as they deny the right to family reunion. Take a typical case: the husband reaches Australia and gets a TPV. His wife and children are still at home, facing the same dangers as the husband. Plainly enough, they would have perfectly good refugee claims. But TPVs deny them this right. The only way the family can be reunited is that the wife and children make their way to Australia by using smugglers' services.

The TPV was the major cause of the SIEVX disaster. On 19 October 2001, a boat carrying 400 asylum seekers sank in its attempt to reach Australia. 353 people drowned. Most of them were women and children coming to Australia to be reunited with the men in their family who were already in Australia on TPVs. The people who drowned were true refugees, doing what human instincts dictate: getting the family back together. The Rudd government abolished TPVs in 2008.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fracking could add to Global Warming

The row over fracking for natural gas has hit the UK, with protests over plans in the village of Balcombe. Could they have a point? Studies are suggesting fracking could accelerate climate change, rather than slow it.

The case for fracking rests on its reputed ability to stem global warming. Burning gas emits half as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as an equivalent amount of coal. That is why, after embracing fracking, CO2 emissions have fallen in the US.

But leading climate scientists are warning that this benefit is illusory. Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, concluded in a recent study that substituting gas for coal increases rather than decreases the rate of warming for many decades.

Firstly, burning coal releases a lot of sulphur dioxide and black carbon. These cool the climate, offsetting up to 40 per cent of the warming effect of burning coal, Wigley told a recent conference of the Breakthrough Institute think tank in Sausalito, California.

Second, fracking technology - which involves pumping water at high pressure into shale beds to release trapped gas - also leaks methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and Wigley says that switching from coal to gas could only bring benefits this century if leakage rates get below 2 per cent. If rates are at 10 per cent – the top end of current US estimates – the gas would deliver extra warming until the mid-22nd century.

A recent review by the UN Environment Programme agreed that emissions from fracking and other unconventional sources of natural gas could boost warming initially, and would only be comparable to coal over a 100-year timescale.


National Broadband Network NBN

NBN Co is installing fibre optical cable to 93 per cent of premises around Australia.

The remaining seven per cent, in remote and rural areas, will be serviced via satellite and fixed wireless.

To access the NBN a home or business must sign up with an internet service provider (ISP).

Once the home has signed up to the NBN through an ISP, NBN Co will send a technician to install the NBN from the street to the home.      

The network links to a small box (or dish or antennae for remote and rural customers) on the outside of the home. Then a cable is brought into the house and a Network Termination Device is installed.

This functions like a modem allowing a customer to plug in their phone and internet to the NBN.

NBN Co will not charge for installing the hardware to the home, but an ISP may charge fees to connect to the NBN.

NBN Co's website says "in NBN fibre areas, you could access internet and phone services over NBN fibre for around the same price as you're paying now".

It recommends consumers contact their ISP "to see if there are any other charges such as set up or activation fees".

Monday, August 19, 2013

NSW: Albury Wadonga fight against health privatisation

More than 100 people shook placards — and their bodies — in Albury’s QEII Square on Saturday, protesting about plans to privatise Albury Wodonga Health’s services.

The voices of the lively, and often dancing, crowd were almost drowned out by a music selection that included Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It and the tooting of horns from passing motorists.

The Health Services Union Albury president Darren Moore said the protesters wanted to make it clear the 167 Albury-Wodonga people who could be affected by privatisation were part of the community.

“We all live and work here and play sport here,” Mr Moore said.

“We may not win this fight but we’re throwing everything at it.

“Our best weapon is the community awareness of a community campaign.”

A decision will be made next month on whether the health service’s cleaning, food preparation, security, warehousing and distribution systems should be privatised.

Mr Moore said hiving off these behind-the-scenes services would also put hygiene and security at risk.

Aimee Vicary works full-time in the Albury hospital cafe.

“We’re anxious, upset and in some ways, a little insulted,” Ms Vicary said.

“We might not have a job at the end of it and we love our jobs. It’s patient care that will suffer in the long run.”

Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said those who served food, wheeled patients and cleaned hospitals made up half the hospital’s staff.

“If it wasn’t for them, doctors and nurses couldn’t get their jobs done,” Mr Hayes said.

Mr Moore said he was confident of smashing the 10,000 signature target for the petition to send to the government.

WA: Supreme Court rules on Kimberly gas hub

Western Australia's Chief Justice has ruled that some of the environmental approvals for the controversial $40 billion Kimberly gas hub were unlawful.

Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruled that three of the Environmental Protection Authority's (EPA) decisions to grant approval to the project were unlawful and invalid.

He also said EPA chairman Paul Vogel should not have made a decision on the project alone.

Dr Vogel made the sole decision to allow the project to go ahead at James Price Point, north of Broome, after four out of five EPA members declared conflicts of interest.

The Wilderness Society and traditional owner Richard Hunter last year launched legal action against the EPA and the Environment Minister over the approvals for the gas hub, set up with Woodside the first to sign on.

Woodside subsequently scrapped its onshore processing plans due to escalating costs, however, the court proceedings continued.

The Wilderness Society's Peter Robertson has called for Dr Vogel and former environment minister Bill Marmion to stand down.

"As soon as we discovered the extent of the conflicts of interest on the EPA board, before they made their decision, we wrote to the EPA and we wrote to the Minister and said they cannot proceed with this decision," he said.

"[Marmion] was told at that time that he should not proceed with that decision because it was likely to be unlawful and he ignored that.

"They ignored us and I believe [Vogel] has made a fatal error in judgement and his position as chairman of the EPA now very much needs to be brought into question."

Previously, Mr Robertson said once the EPA members declared their conflict, a separate group of people should have been appointed to assess the project.

"Instead of having a minimum of three EPA board members, they reduced it to just one member of the five member EPA board making the final decision," he said.

"That is just a gross misuse of decision making processes of the EPA."

Friday, August 16, 2013

5 Reasons to Avoid Risk

"Rubbery Joe" Hockey's War on Treasury

In 2007, when John Howard needed someone to polish the turd that was WorkChoices, he wheeled out Joe Hockey.  Until then, the job had been done by Kevin Andrews, a man with all the charm of the angel of death.  Howard deemed Hockey “avuncular” and just the ticket to retail his assault on the rights of working Australians.

We all know how that turned out.  Hockey’s alleged skills were insufficient to the task, and John Howard lost his own seat, only the second PM in history to do so.

Now that he is Shadow Treasurer, Mr Hockey has abandoned all pretence of avuncularity for something like concerned gravitas, a pose he no doubt considers more suited to the role of potential Treasurer.

Unfortunately for Mr Hockey, he is suffering from the same problem he did during his WorkChoices days: no matter how sincere the persona he assumes as salesman, the underlying product he is trying to flog is seriously flawed.

At least WorkChoices was straightforward in its intentions.

The problem with the Coalition’s approach to economic management is that they consider the notion of providing detail of what they intend to do as some sort quaint anachronism.

Yes, we have been given the big picture stuff – about a price on carbon, paid parental leave, a tax cut to big business – but they run a mile when pushed on how they will pay for everything.

It is extraordinary that they seem to be getting away with this now, given the debacle of their attempt at the 2010 election to cost their economic program.  As Peter Martin pointed out in the aftermath of that:
  • The two Perth accountants who costed the Coalition’s 2010 election policies breached  professional  standards and will be fined, a disciplinary tribunal has ruled.
  •  The ruling is an embarrassment to the Coalition which claimed during the campaign the costing was “as good as you could get anywhere in the country, including in Treasury.”
Yet, here we are in 2013 and it is déjà vu all over again.

While their reluctance to provide detailed costings is bad enough, it is the Coalition’s ongoing attempt to besmirch Treasury that has the potential to do long-term damage.

Qld: 18 Contempt Charges against union veteran dismissed

Veteran unionist Bob Carnegie, who was today found not guilty of 18 contempt of court related charges, said the case had taken a huge emotional toll on him and his family.

Mr Carnegie emerged from the Federal Court building in Brisbane saying: "Fellow workers, comrades, case dismissed. We won."

Federal Magistrate Michael Burnett dismissed all 18 charges brought by hospital developer Abigroup Contractors against the former Maritime Union official.

The court had heard a September 2012 court order barred Mr Carnegie from involvement in a picket line outside the hospital building site.

The Federal Magistrate said he was not satisfied the order itself was a proper order.

A huge cheer went up from union members inside and outside the courtroom at the Federal Circuit Court after Federal Magistrate Burnett handed down his written decision.

"It's been tough, particularly on my family," said Mr Carnegie, who funded his own defence by law firm Slater and Gordon.
"We've seen it through because we're a family. We're a union family.
"As long as we stick together, as long as we believe in ourselves, as long as we stand by our organisation, we'll get through everything we have to face."

About 500 chanting union members had gathered outside the Federal Court building to await the decision.

Mr Carnegie, who still faces a civil case brought against him by Abigroup, said it had been "hugely emotional for himself", but much harder for his wife.
Financially, Mr Carnegie said it had "cost a lot", but he said everything he had done was for rank and file workers and he had an extremely clear conscience about what had happened in the dispute last year.

The hearing before Federal Magistrate Michael Burnett was held in February and concluded with final submissions in April.

Mr Carnegie, who had pleaded not guilty to the 18 charges, had faced possible jail time or a hefty fine if found guilty.

Nine charges related to his alleged attendance within 100 metres of the hospital building site last year.
Five charges alleged he organised persons on a picket line, three charges related to alleged abusive language and one charge related to an alleged threat to employees.

Counsel for Mr Carnegie, Peter Morrissey SC, in April told the court that the court order Mr Carnegie was accused of breaching was "not clear or unambiguous".

He said a substantive injustice had been done because the court orders did not contain a warning that he could face serious punishment if he was found in contempt.

Nurses talk about penalty rates

NSWNMA: Nurses talk about penalty rates - Katie's story

ACTU: Unions to fight growing threats to job security

15 August, 2013 | Media Release

Unions, working people, academics and people from the community sector will come together in Adelaide today to look at ways of tackling the rising rate of insecure work in Australia.

ACTU President Ged Kearney and Chair of the ACTU’s Insecure Work Inquiry Brian Howe will speak at the forum, which will include a panel of working people who have all been affected by this growing work issue.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said that the number of Australians in insecure work – casual, fixed or short-term contracts, labour hire and contracting – has almost doubled in the past two decades to just under 40% of the workforce.

“These workers live with the constant threat that their hours might be cut – or that their jobs will disappear altogether.

“They have no job security, many have no sick leave, carer’s leave or annual leave, and often find it difficult to get a home loan or plan for their future.

“The only bright spot for many of them is the penalty rates they can earn for working unsociable hours – but that’s under threat too.

“The Coalition has penalty rates firmly in its sights if it wins the Federal election, which would be nothing but a billion-dollar attack on workers’ wages.”

The forum will also include a panel of working South Australians who will talk about their experiences of insecure work. They include a Holden worker, a cleaner, a university lecturer, a construction worker and a hospitality worker.

SA Unions State Secretary Janet Giles says all have felt the sting of being forced into casual work.

“People in insecure work have irregular hours and fluctuating pay packets, and they are more likely to be injured at work. These things must change if we want to build a safe and prosperous economy.”

Refugees: "Echoes of Apartheid"

You don't forget spending quality time with Nelson Mandela.

It was an event at Sydney University I'd helped organise and Prime Minister Howard was trying to share the great man's spotlight. Though scrupulously polite, Mandela wasn't impressed; he well remembered Howard's support of the apartheid regime and his backing of Thatcher's opposition to sanctions. Fortunately Malcolm Fraser was there reminding everyone in earshot of Howard's hypocrisy. Mandela asked me how Paul Keating was getting on.

Compared to the White Australia Policy, apartheid was a flash in the pan, lasting from 1948 to 1994. Our version of apartheid - keeping the wrong-coloured humans out of the country - began at Federation and lasted until 1973, when Whitlam finally killed it off. Some scholars suggest that white South Africa had learnt a few wrinkles from White Australia.

I mention the connections between Australia and South Africa, and policies of bigotry, because of our treatment of refugees. When the end was nigh for apartheid many whites headed for the exits. Perhaps encouraged by Howard's attitudes, quite a few chose Australia as their destination. No need for leaky boats - they could afford to be up front in Qantas. No foreign minister accused them of being illegals, queue jumpers or "economic migrants", let alone of being terrorists or baby-drowners. They were the right colour. They were Christian.

Imagine an exodus of whites leaving another part of Africa, say Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Driven from their farms or comfortable lives in Harare, they head in our direction. Does anyone believe for a second that they'd be turned away? That Abbott would be chanting "turn back the boats"? Or that Rudd would be planning to imprison them in PNG? Or would Abbott and his spiritual adviser, Cardinal Pell - and Kevin Rudd, disciple of Bonhoeffer - be waiting at the dock, their faces wreathed in smiles? Singing hymns. Perhaps Onward Christian Soldiers.

Our refugee policies are an echo of the White Australia Policy. They are aimed at brown people. They are aimed at Muslims. The whole thing is conducted in code and euphemism, but that's the truth of it. Boat people represent a minuscule percentage of would-be and official immigrants, barely a blip in the statistics. But Australian politicians across the increasingly narrow spectrum have long since embraced the bigotries of Pauline Hanson for political advantage.

Before Tampa, Phil Ruddock threatened to jail anyone who harboured an escapee from Villawood or Woomera. For 10 years. I pointed out that this was a longer term than many got for murder - and asked readers to put their names to a public register of dissidents. Within a few weeks 10,000 readers of this conservative newspaper did so, saying they'd happily hide escapees in the attic and expressing their disgust with Howard and the shamefully acquiescent Beazley. I asked for donations to help refugee advocacy. A million dollars arrived by return mail. I'd never seen a response on this scale in my long experience of journalism. We used the money to establish an overarching organisation lumberingly entitled Australians for Just Refugee Policies, later simplified to A Just Australia.

Point being that for every bigot who wants the boats turned around - or sunk - there is an Australian who is ashamed of our treatment of "reffos" (people often fleeing wars that Australia helped wage), but their voices are drowned by the shock jocks and politicians who wildly exaggerate the "problem" for electoral advantage. That gave Howard his dark victory after Tampa, which Abbott wants to emulate - and Rudd wants to kybosh with PNG.

If you don't like what's happening, join in protesting it. Say it loud and clear. Not in my Australia. Not in my name.

Phillip Adams in the Weekend Australian 10 August 2013.