Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Government urged to make a new start in 2015

Tuesday December 30, 2014

Two of the nation's leading community welfare organisations today called on our nation's politicians and leaders to partner with business, welfare, community groups, and churches and charities in 2015, to address growing poverty and the country's jobs crisis, if we are to build a more prosperous, productive and fairer society.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said today: “Australia’s social security system provides safety for families and individuals and helps stabilise the economy in downturns."

“Unfortunately, a number of social security changes will take effect from 1 January 2015 that will cause hardship for families, young people and people with disabilities. The most welcome news in 2014 was that the Senate blocked the most extreme and harsh social security measures to come before the Parliament since the Social Security Act was first introduced in 1947."

"Of the more than 20 major social security changes flagged in the 2014 Federal Budget, the most extreme involved denying people under 30 years of age unemployment payments for six months of each year. The Government estimated that 110,000 people each year would be impacted by this policy with some becoming destitute. The Government planned to set aside $230 million over four years for food parcels and other emergency relief for those made destitute by this policy.

“The Senate rejected a proposal to raise the eligibility age for Newstart Allowance to 25 for young unemployed people. Due to start on 1 January 2015, over a 12 month period, this measure would leave around 70,000 young people with $48 a week less to live on.

“An estimated 3.8 million Age, Carer, Veteran and Disability Support Pensioners would have been short-changed by $100 a week over a decade if less generous indexation rules were passed by the Senate. The Age Pension eligibility age will not increase from 67 to age 70 while the Senate maintains its opposition. This harsh plan would severely affect older people who lose their job and on Indigenous people who have much lower life expectancy than their non-Indigenous peers.

“January 1, 2015 marks two years since the Labor Government pushed more than 60,000 single parents onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance (some single parents had already suffered this harsh cut in 2006 under a Coalition Government). There are currently around 90,000 single parents – 95 per cent of them women – whose families have lost between $80 and $140 per week under a policy that Labor has now apologised for implementing.

"Around 260,000 Parenting Payment Single recipients were due to have their pensions frozen in real terms under Budget 2014 plans to alter indexation arrangements from 1 January 2015. If this plan had been approved by the Senate it would have left single parent families around $80 a week worse off over the next 10 years.

“From January 1, over 42,000 single parents, carers and Disability Support Pensioners would have also lost up to $64 a fortnight if the Abbott Government’s plans to axe the study payment, the Pensioner Education Supplement, had passed the Senate by 1 January 2015.

“New laws in place are set to cause significant harm to low income and disadvantaged people in Australia. Among the major social security changes that are due to take effect in 2015 are:

  • A medical review of 28,000 Disability Support Pension recipients aged under 35 under tighter impairment tables if they qualified for payments between January 2008 and December 2011. Around half (48 per cent) of those being reviewed by the under 35 measures have a mental health condition. An estimated 1.4 per cent (around 1,400 people with disabilities) will be moved onto a lower Newstart Allowance.  This would leave them around $170 per week worse off;
  • Apply ‘program of support’ rules to DSP recipients under 35 and new compulsory ‘participation plans’ with compliance penalties to apply;
  • Generally limit DSP overseas portability to just 4 weeks each 12 months, saving $5 million;
  • Limit of six-weeks overseas portability to student payments;
  • Pause indexation of assets value of limits of all working age allowance, student and parenting payment from single for 2 years from July 2015;
  • Pause indexation for 3 years of assets test free areas for all pensions (except Parenting Payment Single) from July 2017, and
  • Axe relocation assistance scholarship assistance for students relocating within and between major cities from 1 January 2015.

“The first Abbott Government Budget contains billions of dollars in social security spending cuts that will lead to intolerable hardship for the poorest and most disadvantaged in the community."

“The Government has, however, supported a number of modest measures aimed at higher income earners that both ACOSS and Welfare Rights support. From 1 January 2015 untaxed superannuation income will be included in the assessment for Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. The Senate also agreed to improve the targeting of Family Tax Benefit Part B by reducing the primary earner income limit from $150,000 to $100,000 a year from July 2015.

“There is some welcome news for young people receiving social security payments, with small increases in these very low weekly payments on 1 January. Those on Youth Allowance, Abstudy and Austudy Payment increase only even 12 months, unlike other social security payments which are increased every six months. The maximum rate of Youth Allowance for a person over 18 and living away from home is just $213.40 a week, and will be increased by just $6.20 a week. Young people on such low rates find it extremely difficult to make ends meet, especially if they rent privately. Welfare, business and the ACTU are calling on the Federal Government to increase single allowance payments by $51 a week in the 2015 Federal Budget.”
“ACOSS, along with the Welfare Rights Network and hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and their families and carers await the release of the Government’s review of the welfare system with high levels of both caution and concern.

"While the simplification of social security payments is important, a more critical issue for the overall health of our system is found in addressing the concerns of both the adequacy of payments, especially for those on allowance payments and the provision of more effective employment assistance.

“Leaks suggest over time, payments for people with disabilities will be reduced and that some people with certain types of disabilities should be paid lesser amounts because of the nature of their disability. Indications are that people with psychiatric or mental illnesses will be singled out, despite evidence pointing to the global dimensions of mental health problems, and evidence suggesting that employers are less likely to employ people with mental health conditions.

"We want to see the Government make a new start in 2015, by scrapping harmful legislation currently before Parliament and working with us to develop a strategy to address growing poverty and the jobs crisis facing our country."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Corporate Culture: Suncorp Insurance Privatisation Push

One of the nation’s biggest insurers has stepped up calls for privatising billions of dollars in personal insurance schemes by arguing the rollout of the ­national disability insurance scheme should be a catalyst for further change.

Setting the scene for a showdown with unions, Suncorp is spearheading a push for the privatisation of personal injury schemes underwritten by the government that include workers’ compensation and compulsory third-party.

Opening a new front in the debate, the Queensland giant has declared the reform process for the NDIS and proposed national injury insurance scheme for dealing with catastrophic injuries should be a “key catalyst” for privatising the non-catastrophic personal injury schemes.

The proposed NIIS is supposed to complement the NDIS by relieving a big part of the cost of the scheme. The NIIS is yet to be fully formed, but the government has been working with the states on a federated model of state-based schemes for people who are catastrophically injured, building on existing schemes for motor ­vehicle and workplace accidents.

Suncorp’s executive general manager of statutory portfolio, Chris McHugh, said national disability reform meant governments were looking at their personal injury schemes and changes to dealing with catastrophic injury provided the states with the “perfect opportunity to reform your schemes, carve out the non-catastrophic injury to the private sector”.

The Suncorp Group — which owns providers such as GIO, AAMI and Suncorp Insurance — has told the government’s ­competition policy review that privatising state-owned schemes has the potential to increase ­productivity and generate billions of dollars for the economy.

MUA: A message for the season from Paddy Crumlin

I’d like to wish all members, staff and officers of the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Transport Workers’ Federation a peaceful and happy season of renewal over the coming weeks.

This pause for reflection comes at a time and in an environment of increasing dysfunction in both Australia and the world more generally. Gripped by a continuing lack of confidence in the national and international economy, many employers and governments have reverted to policies of attrition and blame against communities and labour organisations. In Australia particularly, the failure to manage the economy by the Abbott government has been matched with the failure to realise national prosperity that can only be secured by building functional and sympathetic relationships with the working women and men and their families hardest hit by the continuing economic mismanagement. As is the case worldwide, certain employer groups have mounted a concerted and aggressive campaign against labour rights in this country, accentuated by a wasteful and ideological use of blunt instruments like the Royal Commission into Trade Unions and other similar parliamentary and legislative abuses to damage the union movement rather than bring to account the small number of abuses. This subjective use of government has gone arm-in-arm with the wholesale attack on Australian manufacturing and related services including coastal shipping, the embracing of mechanisms to introduce guest labour at greatly reduced standards of employment through migration visas, parliamentary abuses and the continuing proliferation of 457 visas which are expected to greatly increase following new Free Trade Agreements with Korea and China securing greater right for access to Australian job sites in some cases than for Australian workers.

Similarly the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic Trade Partnerships have built on the matrix of trade mechanisms to avoid labour standards, accountability and engagement. This fervour for deregulation and dilution of protections for workers has not been balanced, however, by any concerted successes in curbing executive greed and largesse and tax avoidance in the world’s largest corporations including companies like Chevron. The international financial system, having chronically failed to provide the investment required to build communities rather than the individual wealth of entrenched elites, continues to pursue short-term speculation enhanced by regulatory and auditory avoidance. Corporate governance in many instances is blind to the growing environmental catastrophe facing the world in generations to come, and prefers on too many occasions to build wealth on the deprivation of the standards of work and entitlements that go with that work - including the right to collectively bargain, the right to join trade unions unmolested and the right to withdraw labour to secure agreement on those standards in the last instance. These inalienable rights are now under savage and determined attack. Much of the wealth available for investment today comes from the negotiations by trade unions for financial independence in retirement and is sourced from profit back to the Members’ Pension and Superannuation Funds, an area of continuing engagement and activity which seeks long-term sustainable growth and investment, particularly in community infrastructure and sustainable living.

Oxfam has calculated that the world’s richest 85 individuals have the same wealth as half the world’s poorest, approximately 3.5 billion people. This is an inevitable consequence of the polarisation of power in the workplace and subsequently, working communities of the world. This is an outrage that cannot be either justified or sustained and must be countered with courage and continual determination to reclaim our financial and other political institutions. These spectacular policy failures and malignant distortions have defensively and consequently enhanced the continuing savaging of labour rights through civil as well as industrial legal avenues and the active and slavish adherence to a form of class warfare by some employers against their workforce, particularly trade union activists and delegates.

Australia, like many of the wealthiest countries in the world, has a relatively small population and should have been politically managed into a bipartisan accountability on jobs, working entitlements, social support in aged, sickness and unemployment benefits and the many other characteristics of a forward-thinking and functional society that has attracted the admiration of the rest of the world in both peacetime and war over many generations. At the core of this development has been the delivery of social equity, workplace fairness and the promotion of job growth, housing, education and equal opportunity for all. The MUA is proud to have been at the forefront of that delivery for over 140 years and together with the ITF and our worldwide network of affiliates and members, we intend to remain there regardless of political and industrial bullying and harassment by self-serving actions and policy initiatives by both government and business, particularly against maritime and transport workers.

At a time of continuing political unrest, which tips over regularly into gut-wrenching and inexcusable violence, terrorism and large swathes of the world facing the anvil of grinding poverty and the hammer of sectarian violence and war, it is incumbent on all of us to remain active and courageous in the face of political cynicism and opportunism. Our right to work and our rights at work define our society and have always been central to the building of peace and prosperity for the many and not just the few. It is the basis of self and mutual respect and sustainability in Australia and internationally. The realisation of those values and what it means for working men and women is central to our renewal and the optimism we must nurture through our collective will and actions as trade unionists and human and civil rights activists.

Again on behalf of the ITF and MUA, I wish all the space and time for the reflection required for that renewal and the hope that brings to us all.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

'No amount of spin' will change dislike of university fee increases, Labor says

No amount of spin will get Australians to accept $100,000 university degrees, Labor says.

Labor’s education spokesman, Kim Carr, panned the federal government’s reported $500,000 splurge on market research to help win support for its policies to overhaul universities.

“No amount of money, no amount of spin, will change the fact that Australians will never accept the idea that your education depends upon how much you can pay,” Senator Carr said in Melbourne.

“No amount of government-funded advertising, publicly-funded advertising will change the Australian people’s attitude.”

Carr said the unfair higher education measures were never promised by the government.

“In fact, they said exactly the opposite before the election,” he said.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ad Hockery exposed again

As an accountant turned journo, I try to ensure the creative accounting used to make the budget figures look better than they really are doesn't go unexposed. But I've never seen a con as audacious as the proposed medical research future fund.
I wrote at length about all the accounting tricks perpetrated by the Gillard government, but now it's the Abbott government's turn.
In their budget update during last year's election campaign, the heads of Treasury and Finance signed off on a deficit estimate for 2013-14 of $30 billion. But four months later Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann popped up with their own mid-year review claiming the deficit they'd inherited would be closer to $47 billion.
Today you'll hear Hockey repeat that claim. But that higher number was largely the result of our heroes indulging in a little creative accounting of their own.

About $7 billion of the $17 billion increase since the election was explained by Treasury revising down its forecasts for employment and wage growth and, hence, tax collections. Fair enough. But most of the remaining $10 billion involved dubious transactions our heroes claimed to have been forced to make because Labor had left them hanging.
The biggest was a transfer of $8.8 billion to the Reserve Bank – an amount the Reserve hadn't asked for and Treasury had recommended against. Its effect was to make Labor's last deficit look bigger and to make it easier for the Reserve to pay higher dividends into Hockey's subsequent budgets.
When in this year's budget Hockey announced the GP co-payment and various other cuts in health spending, he explained that these savings would be put in a new medical research future fund.
Once the money in the fund had built up $20 billion, the annual interest on the money in the fund would be used to pay for medical research. But under the changes announced last week, these payments from the net interest earnt would instead begin in 2015-16.
This is an accounting trick, but it seems only students of government accounting rules can see it. People think that since the savings are being spent building up the fund, there won't be any net saving to the budget until after the $20 billion target has been reached.
Not so. The saving to the budget bottom line is immediate, though the change means this saving will be reduced a fraction by the increased spending on research. Like many budget fiddles, this one relies on exploiting loopholes in the definition of the bottom line, the "underlying cash deficit".
The best way of thinking of it is that transactions recorded "above the line" affect the size of the deficit, whereas those recorded "below the line" don't. Below-the-line transactions are regarded as affecting only the way the deficit is financed.
The Medicare spending cuts are recorded above the line, but the decision to put an amount of money equivalent to those savings into a special fund goes below the line. It is, after all, only a decision to move money around the government's balance sheet. It doesn't involve the government spending a cent, just moving money between its accounts.
Of course, since the government is in deficit, it doesn't actually have any money to put into its medical research future fund account. So to its normal borrowing to cover the deficit it will have to add borrowing to finance the money it puts into the research fund.
This extra will add to the size of its gross public debt, but not to its netdebt, since the latter is the gross debt (everything the government owes other people) minus all the money in the various parts of the future fund, which has been used to buy shares and bonds, and so represents all the money other people owe the government.
However, when the government spends the interest on the medical fund on medical research, this spending will be recorded above the line and so will add to the deficit.
Once the dust has settled, however, I expect to see a second leg of the trick brought to fruition. In a subsequent budget the government may decide that, now it's spending more on medical research via the future fund, it's able to spend less on medical research via the National Health and Medical Research Council. This brilliant con job will be complete.
What's the point of it all? Partly it's an attempt to bamboozle doctors, but mainly it's designed to allow the government to break its election promise not to cut health spending while claiming it hasn't broken it, just "reprioritised" health spending.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

CFMEU last news update for 2014:

In CFMEU last news update for 2014: 

A delegation of BHP mineworkers recently travelled to the company's AGM - interview with delegate; 

Qld losing millions because of BMA's compulsory 100% FIFO policy - report launched by Tony Windsor; 

commuting mineworkers survey results are in; 
President Tony Maher on the Trade Union Royal Commission; Grasstree fatality

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

International Federation For Human Rights blasts Greece Austerity

Four years of brutal austerity measures in Greece have highlighted the poverty and inequality in the country undermining democracy, a damning new report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says.

“While we accept that exceptional circumstances can require exceptional responses, the way policies were adopted and implemented in this context clearly failed to respect international standards,” FIDH president Karim Lahidji said.

The Greek authorities have “sacrificed nearly everything” to save its economy, he added.

The organization also said that the austerity measures and “a failure to tackle the fundamental social needs” have triggered a sharp rise in unemployment that has “exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.”

The government’s moves also forced the most “vulnerable” sections of the population to “pay the highest toll” in the crisis. 

In particular, the minimum salary was reduced after February 2012 by 22 percent for the employees over 25, and a staggering 32 percent for those under 25, the FIDH said. Meanwhile, doctors were forced to refuse to treat patients and postpone key surgeries due to cuts in an already understaffed health system. 

The organization said that not only the Greek authorities are to blame, with the EU and IMF also violating their “obligations under international law” that forced the struggling Greek economy into “draconian” bailout deals. 

“Human rights violations appear as having simply been regarded as an acceptable collateral damage in a broader crisis management, or as a well-deserved answer to the ’Greek problem’. This is simply unacceptable,” 
“I seriously doubt whether any human rights concerns were ever raised in designing and implementing the country’s ‘rescue’ plans,” he added. 

FIDH is by no means the first group to accuse European authorities of implementing harsh austerity: In 2013, Oxfam blasted the measures in a report that threatened 25 million people could be living in poverty by 2025 unless the cuts are canceled. 

The austerity measures have been implemented in Greece for the last four years: cuts to public services, as well as higher taxes were pre-conditions for bailouts to keep the banks solvent.

Shuffling in the Abbott hutch

Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide

Welcome to Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide Online - the first online sustainability guide for seafood consumers in Australia. It was developed in response to growing public concern about overfishing and its impact on our oceans and their wildlife. It is designed to help you make informed seafood choices and play a part in swelling the tide for sustainable seafood in Australia.

ACOSS: Shutting down community voices will weaken Government’s ability to make effective reforms

The Australian Council of Social Service today expressed deep concern at the extensive funding cuts to community sector organisations announced yesterday, including to policy and advocacy work. ACOSS believes this will severely weaken the Federal Government’s ability to engage with the community on the important reforms that lie ahead and deliver an inclusive growth agenda.

“Cutting support for vital community expertise and voices is a major mistake. Community voices play a crucial role in providing on-the-ground advice and an important link connecting communities with government decision-making processes,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Peak bodies working in housing and homelessness and disability, among other areas, have all been advised they will not be receiving Government funding for their work in the future, despite the core areas of need and policy priority that they represent.

“Treasurer Joe Hockey has declared that 2015 will be a year of community consultation, yet the government is dismantling the very mechanisms that will allow that to happen effectively.

“It is shocking that the Government would wait until the eve of Christmas to deliver this news, at the very time many community organisations are the most stretched with demands for help.

"We know that 80% of frontline agencies are struggling to meet growing demand for services with 2.5 million people now living below the poverty line. Most of them have been living in a state of uncertainty since the budget decision to withdraw around a quarter of a billion dollars from the Department of Social Services portfolio. Now we are finding out that the very groups that advocate for those services, and the people living in poverty and disadvantage that they represent, will be shut down in the new year.

“This is a major blow to a sector that makes an enormous contribution to our society, not only in providing a lifeline for people and communities in need, but evidence and policy advice to government.

“A strong, independent civil society is essential to a functioning democracy. Defunding these expert voices clearly diminishes our capacity to represent and advocate for the people that we are here to assist. Governments need fearless and frank advice, now arguably more than ever. Business needs community expertise to help us search for common ground on what works. The Australian public needs informed, and sometimes robust public debate. Community organisations are essential to each of these processes.

“The Prime Minister has identified the Cabinet Reshuffle as an opportunity to reset and refocus. We call on the incoming Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Scott Morrison, to reset this decision on funding cuts, recognising that these expert voices in the community sector will be of unique value to his role, bringing independent community views about practical, workable solutions to some of our biggest national challenges.

“The Government has been criticised for being unable to gain public support for many of its unfair budget measures which overwhelmingly impact upon people on the lowest incomes. Now is the time for the Government to listen to these concerns and bring the community together in forging a reform path which is fair and sustainable.

“We urge the Minister to work in partnership with us to enable everyone to participate in our society and have a strong social protection system for anyone who falls into hard times. This is the mark of a strong civil society and will be the measure by which the Government will be judged,” Dr Goldie said.

NT: Indigenous communities oppose fracking

Remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory are gearing up for a public relations battle with the oil and gas industry over fracking.

Aboriginal communities opposed to hydraulic fracturing projects on their land have formed an alliance.

The oil and gas industry is planning a counter-offensive highlighting economic benefits and environmental safeguards.

The indigenous and community groups come from communities across the NT including Maningrida, Borroloola, Mataranka and Katherine.

Their new group, the NT Frack Free Alliance, aims to provide support to remote groups opposing fracking.

At the group's first meeting in Darwin, Maningrida area traditional owner Eddie Mason from the Balachni clan said many Indigenous people felt locked out of decision making about where onshore gas projects will go.

"We're going to talk to the Government, to say that we don't want any fracking or mining on our country," he said.

A Garrawa elder from Borrooloola, Nancy McDinny, said the group would try to stop any fracking on her country.

"We don't want no fracking down at Borroloola area and we'd like the place to be really clear," she said.

They are taking advice on strategy from the New South Wales protest organisers Lock the Gate. 

Boudicca Cerese from Lock the Gate told the meeting the communities have the right "to say no to fracking, whether it be you mob out bush, whether it be the people in Katherine". 

Monday, December 22, 2014

NSWTF: Statement on school massacre in Pakistan

By NSW Teachers Federation 18 December 2014

The AEU wishes to express its shock at the massacre of over 100 students and teachers at a school in Pakistan and its solidarity with the families of the victims and the school community.
All schools should be safe havens for both students and teachers. Children have the right to an education without fear or violence, and no war or conflict should prevent that. No parent should live in fear that their child will not return from school.
This attack on innocent children attending school is a barbaric act which can have no justification and should be condemned.
Access to universal, quality education is vitally important for all developing nations, and attempts to deny children in Pakistan an education are an attack on the future of that country.
As a member of Education International, the AEU endorses EI’s call for the Government of Pakistan to take all steps to ensure that all children – boys and girls – are able to safely attend school.
The global community must not tolerate the brutal massacre of students wanting to be educated and of the teachers who teach them.

MUA Welcomes Long Overdue Release of ‘Cuban Five’ Members

The Maritime Union of Australia has today welcomed the historic prisoner exchange deal between the US and Cuba, which will see the three remaining members of the ‘Cuban Five’ - as well as American Alan Gross - released from prison.

The MUA has campaigned strongly for the release of the Cuban Five since their arrest in 1998 and their subsequent conviction of conspiracy to commit espionage.


The MUA has always maintained that the Cuban Five were antiterrorist heroes and were performing vital work in monitoring violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said today’s news was hugely satisfying.
“Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramon LabaƱino should never have been behind bars in the first place, and their release today is long overdue justice,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The MUA has campaigned long and hard for their release and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the goal of that campaign finally achieved today.
“It is my sincere hope that Gerardo, Antonio, and Ramon are able to reconnect with their friends and families in Cuba and return to the freedom that was cruelly snatched from them.

“These men are patriots and were doing nothing more than trying to protect the people of their nation from violence. It is to the eternal shame of the United States that they were imprisoned at all, but justice is far better late than never.

“On behalf of all of us in the Maritime Union of Australia I warmly congratulate Gerardo, Antonio, and Ramon on their release. I want to remind them that they will always have great friends in Australia.”

- See more at: 

CFMEU take on the Royal Commission

Not only is the Royal Commission a massive waste of taxpayers’ money - $50 million and counting- it does nothing to fix the real problems facing our country: the increasing cost of living, rising unemployment and the highest rate of youth unemployment in decades.

In this short video we give you our take on the Royal Commission.

We wish all our members a safe and happy holiday season. We will return in 2015 to keep fighting for the right of all workers to stand up, speak out and come home.

In unity,

Michael O’Connor - National Secretary
Tony Maher – National President
Dave Noonan – National Assistant Secretary

ACTU: Achievements of Australian Union Members and Supporters in 2014.

ACTU President Ged Kearney looks back at the achievements of Australian Union members and supporters in 2014.
Join Your Union 1300 486 466

Italian coastguard rescues close to 200 Syrian migrants

Footage released by the Italian coastguard on Saturday shows the rescue of close to 200 Syrian migrants on Friday 130 miles off the Italian coast.The ship had set sail from Turkey carrying a total of 194 people including 38 children and 23 women, two of whom were pregnant. Just a few hours after coastguard officials boarded the merchant ship and successfully rescued all migrants, it sank.

ACOSS: Opportunity to reset unfair Budget policies and work together on major reforms

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today responded to the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle by calling on the Government to seize the opportunity to reset its budget and work with the community, including by engaging with those experiencing poverty and disadvantage, on major reforms.
ACOSS Acting CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, “The community has voiced its strong opposition to the harshest measures in the federal budget. Now is the time for the government to listen to these concerns and bring the community together down a budget reform path which is fair and sustainable.”

“We look forward to working constructively with Minister Morrison and the Government in the coming year to ensure effective policy and service delivery, including as it prepares its new families package.
“The Social Services portfolio is critical to ensure adequate support to people and communities facing poverty and inequality across Australia, and to supporting employment participation. Minister Morrison, and other Minister's responsible for health, education and employment, will play a critical role in determining how the Government best meets the needs of the many people outside the labour market. 
“When the Prime Minister took office in September 2013, he said this would be a Government for everyone that would ‘not leave anyone behind’. This reshuffle is the chance for the Government to reset on that commitment and to abandon damaging measures from the 2014 Budget such as withdrawing payments for young unemployed people for six months of each year; restricting access to Newstart to over 25s; freezing family payments; lowering indexation of pensions; further targeting of people on disability support pension; and introducing a GP co-payment.
“We know that frontline agencies are struggling to meet growing demand for services with 2.5 million people now living below the poverty line. At the same time we’ve seen severe cuts to Department of Social Security funding of around a quarter of a billion dollars. That will reduce our ability to meet increasing need in our community.
“In an economic downturn with growing unemployment, we must ensure that our social protection system is robust. It’s not a time to slash these supports and programs.
“As the peak body for this important sector, ACOSS will continue to provide expert advice to government, grounded in the experience of people and communities living in poverty, and connecting communities with government decision-making processes.
“The former Minister Kevin Andrews demonstrated a commitment to meaningful engagement with ACOSS and people with lived experience of poverty and exclusion, even in the face of policy disagreement. We wish him well in his new portfolio of Defence,"  Dr Boyd-Caine said.

NSW: Gloucester CSG Campaign

NSW: Two Days, Two Cities – One Struggle

Sunday, December 21, 2014

ITF Calls On Australian Government To Do Better On Labour Rights

Posted by Ashleigh Telford on December 18, 2014

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is calling on the Australian Government to improve labour regulations after the Federal Court found two Fijian workers had been exploited.

Two men who were brought to Australia on the proviso of training were found by the court to be employees, not trainees, of Sydney-based Devine Marine Group, according to the findings released this week.

Justice Richard White found that Captain Brett Devine's marine salvage company, Devine Marine Group Pty Ltd, breached the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award by failing to pay two Fijian workers minimum hourly rates and weekend penalties in 2011.

Instead, the company purported to pay them a daily $100 "living away from home allowance", which was at least $60 a day below their ordinary hours Entitlement.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) eventually had a win in the Federal Court against DMG after prosecution of the case began in 2011.

The case of the two Fijian men, who were brought to Australia on subclass 456 visas, came to the attention of the FWO when one of the Fijian men had to be attended to by emergency services after collapsing on a barge in Port Adelaide.

The court heard that the men often worked 12-hour days sometimes seven-days a week for a flat rate of $100 a day, far less than Australian minimum wage.

ITF President and Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was disturbed by the findings and that cases like this would likely become more commonplace as visa laws were relaxed by the Abbott Government.

"The Federal Court has found that the two Fijian workers have clearly been exploited by an unscrupulous employer," Mr Crumlin said.
"Yet rather than tighten the safety net for workers being exploited, since coming to power the Abbott Government has been actively watering down protections.

"New rules being planned or put in place by the Abbott Government such as Free Trade Agreements, Designated Area Migration Agreements, the deregulation of coastal shipping, utilization of Maritime Crew Visas in
the offshore and the loosening of requirements surrounding 457 visa program will make it more likely that unscrupulous employers can get away with exploiting workers.”

In his summary of findings, Justice White said Captain Devine admitted that he would have been "very annoyed" had the men had gone to work somewhere else.

"[Captain Devine] said that, in that event, he would have contacted the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that the men's visas would be cancelled," Justice White said.

"I accept, that Capt Devine said to [the workers] more than once words to the effect: If you don't like it, you go back to Fiji'.

- See more at: 

Behold the Shuffling Abbott

nothing but a pack of cards

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said the reshuffle marked a chaotic end to the year for the Government.

"I think it is a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister's Cabinet," she said.

"You don't need to have this extensive a reshuffle if your cabinet's performing well.

"And the reality we know is the cabinet isn't performing well, and the Government's not performing well because their policies are bad."

Greens Leader Christine Milne slammed the appointment of Mr Morrison as Social Services Minister.

"Putting Scott Morrison in charge of Social Services will send shivers down the spines of people across the country," she said.

"Scott Morrison and the word compassion don't go in the same sentence."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Book: The Black Box Society

The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information—Frank Pasquale

Every day, corporations are connecting the dots about our personal behavior—silently scrutinizing clues left behind by our work habits and Internet use. The data compiled and portraits created are incredibly detailed, to the point of being invasive. But who connects the dots about what firms are doing with this information? The Black Box Society argues that we all need to be able to do so—and to set limits on how big data affects our lives.

Hidden algorithms can make (or ruin) reputations, decide the destiny of entrepreneurs, or even devastate an entire economy. Shrouded in secrecy and complexity, decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms were long assumed to be neutral and technical. But leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on automated judgment. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regulators may have only scratched the surface of this troubling behavior.

Frank Pasquale exposes how powerful interests abuse secrecy for profit and explains ways to rein them in. Demanding transparency is only the first step. An intelligible society would assure that key decisions of its most important firms are fair, nondiscriminatory, and open to criticism. Silicon Valley and Wall Street need to accept as much accountability as they impose on others.

Interview with Frank Pasquale

Harvard University Press–http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674368279

Unions NSW: HSC Students hit with fee hikes

Posted on December 17, 2014

More than 75,000 NSW Year 12 students have received their HSC results today and will be starting to think about tertiary education.

Many will go to university and others will take a year off but those hoping to study at TAFE will be hit by the impact of the privatisation of many TAFE courses.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon says the NSW Government is robbing the next generation of choice by cutting TAFE funding and increasing fees, making many courses unavailable and unaffordable.

“These young adults should be offered as much choice and opportunity as possible to pursue the future they strive for, and that’s where TAFE comes in," Mr Lennon said.

“The Baird Government’s cuts have already seen 800 jobs slashed before Christmas and there is set to be many more in the new year. These cuts are changing the face of vocational education and limiting the choice and opportunities of our young people," he said.

NSW Teachers Federation President Maurie Mulheron said the impact of the government's "Smart and Skilled" policy, which starts in January, was a serious threat to the TAFE system.

"This policy is effectively privatising TAFE, it's a model where public funds are taken from TAFE and given to commercial VET providers," Mr Mulheron said.

"On top of that there are savage hikes in student fees with the proceeds also going to private providers, which will force young people to go into debt even before they gain a qualification," he said.

Unions NSW believes education is a fundamental right and it should be the responsibility of government to ensure that it is accessible to everyone. Unions are calling on the government to cap the amount of funding being stripped from TAFE and handed to private providers.

Unions NSW Mark Lennon said: “The Premier should take note of what happened in Victoria and reverse the cuts that are debilitating our TAFEs across the state.”

Statement from the CFMEU in relation to report from Royal Commission

The CFMEU notes that the report of the Royal Commission released today contains a number of findings relating to CFMEU officials with recommendations that matters be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and other agencies.

The Royal Commission is not a court of law and does not exercise judicial power.

Its interim report makes no specific recommendations for legislative change and does not make any findings of corruption against any CFMEU official.

The Royal Commission does not conclude that any CFMEU official ‘has engaged in conduct that was a breach of the law.’ Instead the Commissioner recommends that his findings be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and other agencies in order for them to ‘consider’ whether such breaches have occurred and if any action should be taken.

In respect of the matters that are referred to the DPP and other authorities, the CFMEU will deal with those issues as they arise

It is worth noting that the Royal Commission is not independent of the government. It has been initiated and established under terms of reference written by the Abbott Government. Like previous Royal Commissions, the Heydon Commission is politically motivated to produce outcomes to justify the introduction of anti union laws.

This is clear from the prejudiced and biased findings of the Royal Commission that reflect the ideological bent of the Abbott Government and their hatred of unions.

This Royal Commission is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money that will not produce one extra job or train one apprentice. It has been a blatant politicised process the ultimate aim of which, is to take away workers’ rights.

The CFMEU will continue to do what it does every day: protect and defend workers’ safety, working conditions and their legal rights in our industries.


SDA NSW Branch Friday, 19 December 2014

MOST of us will be home with family and friends on Christmas Day. But some workers will have to turn up for work on Christmas Day.
In many cases they are doing essential work such as police, security guards, and operators of critical infrastructure.
Increasingly though it’s only because an argument has been had and lost as to whether a particular business really needs to be open for trade on that day.
The front line of this battle is retail.
In New South Wales most shops close on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. A compromise has been reached where a small number of shops in the Sydney CBD open on Boxing Day and trading is also allowed in designated tourist areas.

Meanwhile, the great majority of supermarkets and other large shops across NSW remain closed for both Christmas and Boxing Day so that their staff can enjoy a well-earned break after the busy month of December.
In some cases that two-day break is the only time some workers have to rejoin distant family members.
Earlier this month a shopping centre was exposed for planning to trade on Christmas Day. To do this is to steal Christmas from retail workers and their families. It’s against the law for most shops too.
Santa knows who’s naughty or nice so the shopping centre got a visit from some grumpy Santas to make the point.
The Liberal State Government wants to scrap the restrictions on Boxing Day trading and allow any shop to open on this day.
Supposedly workers would be protected by a clause that work on the day is voluntary. However it’s not hard to do the math.
Opening every store in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and regional NSW to trade on Boxing Day would require thousands of extra people to present themselves for work.
If you’re casual or in insecure work do you seriously believe that you will have much say about whether you have to give up your Boxing Day to attend work?
It isn’t Christmas without Boxing Day
Preventing these sorts of situations is all part of the Take The Time campaign. The campaign, supported by the SDA, community and church groups, has successfully lobbied cross-bench Parliamentarians to block the Government’s attempt at further deregulation so far.
The Baird Government haven’t given up though. As recently as November, a government spokesperson reaffirmed their intention to change the law to allow for open slather on Boxing Day if they get the chance, something retail workers in NSW should keep in mind when they cast their votes next March.
They need to leave the days alone, leave them for families, leave them for the kids.
Retail workers know that Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Boxing Day.

Take the time for better work-life balance

Stand up for retail workers and against any further erosion of their precious family time.

ACTU: Abbott Government $50,000,000 War on Workers

19 December, 2014 | Media Release

The Abbott Government owes former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, taxpayers and jobless Australians an apology for wasting $50 million on a failed political inquiry instead of dealing with the jobs crisis.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said Minister Abetz has misled the public about the findings of the Royal Commission Interim Report in an attempt to prop up the Government’s hapless political agenda.

Commissioner Dyson Heydon has not made any recommendations in favor of changing workplace laws contrary to the impression given by Minister Abetz today.

“The Abbott Royal Commission is a fundamentally political exercise,” Ms Kearney said.

“Every Liberal Prime Minister since Billy McMahon has had at least one Royal Commission into trade unions – it’s their attack of choice against their political enemies.

“What we have seen today is a desperate Government trying to make this something that it isn’t.

“The Abbott Government owes former Prime Minister Julia Gillard an apology – the smoking gun wasn’t there.

“The Abbott Government owes taxpayers an apology for wasting $50 million on a failed political inquiry into their political opponents.

“And the Abbott Government owes Australia’s unemployed an apology for not turning up today with a positive plan to create jobs.

“Excuse me for having hoped that with unemployment already at a 12-year-high of 6.3 per cent that the Federal Minister for Employment might’ve announced a jobs plan today,”

Ms Kearney said that this Royal Commission is all about politics for the Abbott Government.

“It should not be forgotten that it was the Abbott Government’s decision to extend the Trade Union Royal Commission by 12 months despite advice to the contrary from the Royal Commission itself – a point confirmed by Attorney General Brandis at Senate Estimates recently.

“It should not be forgotten that Mr Abbott used the Trade Union Royal Commission to try and influence the Victorian state election.

“Our consistent view is that this Royal Commission is about attacking the ability of unions to deliver outcomes for working people – jobs, wages, conditions and safety.”

Ms Kearney said the trade union movement was committed to strong, democratic and accountable unions and that without effective unions, employment conditions in Australia would go backwards. 

"Union-won conditions are a fundamental pillar of the decent living standards that Australians want protected,” Ms Kearney said.

"This Royal Commission is the Abbott Government's attempt to stop unions campaigning against the range of legislation already before the Parliament designed to weaken workers' protections.
“The ACTU has consistently said that criminal behaviour and corruption must be dealt with by the police and the courts and we believe the Police should be given the resources they need to make those investigations.” 

Ms Kearney said the Royal Commission into Trade Unions has not investigated how major construction companies, including major publicly-listed companies have subcontracted to dubious individuals – it has just focused on trade unions.

“It’s a $50 million PR exercise by the Liberal Government with the bill being footed to taxpayers.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Government Debt Panic Exposed

ACTU: Ad-Hockary at work

17 December, 2014 | Media Release

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s broken promise to impose tough new tax avoidance rules on multinational companies reveals the true hypocrisy of the Abbott Government, said the ACTU.

“The Abbott Government has just given its big business mates a $600 million dollar Christmas present while continuing to pursue unfair budget cuts that will hurt hard working and vulnerable Australians,” said ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver.

In November last year, Joe Hockey ruled out new laws to stop global corporations minimizing tax which had a projected $600 million dollar benefit to taxpayers but promised to introduce a targeted anti-avoidance provision instead.

“Yet buried in this week’s budget update is a single line saying the Government is dropping its anti-avoidance provision - who are the so-called lifters and who are the leaners?” Mr Oliver said.

“The Abbott Government wants to saddle university students with mortgage-sized university debts and make people pay more to visit the doctor – yet it’s letting its big business mates avoid paying their fair share of tax.”

United Voice National Secretary and member of the Tax Justice Network, David O’Byrne, said it is wrong for the Treasurer to cut health, education and jobs yet refuse to tackle a fundamental revenue shortfall – corporate tax avoidance.

“If the Treasurer is genuine about tax reform today he must answer three questions:

  • Why has the Government failed to increase revenue through action on corporate tax avoidance? 
  • Does the Government agree with Gerry Harvey that tax avoidance is "morally wrong"  
  • He said when overseas “a tax cheat is a thief” so why hasn’t he acted when at home? 

The Government’s back flip on tax avoidance comes as a new OECD economic survey of Australia was released today.

It recommends measures such as reviewing superannuation tax concessions to increase budget revenue, instead of pursuing budget cuts that target the unemployed and low income earners.

“The Abbott Government could save billions of dollars by cracking down on corporate tax dodgers and super tax concessions that benefit the rich – but they are choosing not to do so,” said Mr Oliver.

“Unemployment is at a 12-year-high of 6.3 per cent and projected to go even higher, wages growth is at a record low and the economy is in stagnation.

“The Abbott Government needs to deliver a plan for economic growth that will look after all Australians and not just its big business mates.”

Indonesia: 1 million workers strike

Dec 15, 2014

On 10 December, 1 million members of Indonesian trade union confederations KSPI, KSBSI and KSPSI went on strike demanding wage increases after president Joko Widodo upped fuel prices. In Jakarta 50,000 people marched to the President’s Palace to voice their demands.

The day of action follows on demonstrations one week earlier, where unions reacted to the new minimum wage for 2015. Minimum wage in Indonesia is set according to the province of the country.
On 10 December three of Indonesia’s trade union confederations KSPI, KSBSI, KSPSI organized a national strike, involving around 1 million union members in large cities in the country. In Jakarta alone, around 50,000 workers demonstrated on the streets.

The unions are opposed to price increase on fuel introduced by the president. The hike will effectively mean that workers lose 50 per cent of their purchasing power.

Unions are urging Governors of every province to increase the minimum wage to USD 272,7 and to increase the number of items for living cost calculation from 60 to 84 items.

A pension reform was agreed to enter into force on 1 July 2015, but there are growing concerns on what how it will be implemented.

Said Iqbal, president of trade union confederation KSPI, says:
“The law already exists, what we need is for the government to make a decree so that the law can be implemented. Once it is implemented, 44 million workers will benefit from the pension system.”

A universal health insurance meant to apply to all citizens in Indonesia as of January 2014, still leaves more than 10 million people lacking cover. Unions are demanding that this level of health insurance should be fully implemented for everyone by 1 January 2015.

The striking unions are also demanding a stop to outsourcing, which is growing fast in Indonesia.

Said Iqbal says:
We want to see 16 million agency workers converted to direct employment. And if the government strictly follows the law, this should happen.

On 11 December 2014, the confederations met with the Indonesian House of Representatives to present their five demands. Rusli, spokesperson of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) said:
"We will see how the government reacts to the demands we raised in today's rally. If they fail to respond we will stage a nationwide strike.”

Unity among unions

As IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in the Indonesian National Council met for a unity building meeting on 11 – 12 December, they expressed their support for the unions involved in the struggle.
IndustriALL unions in Indonesia are currently working together on drafting a model collective bargaining agreement, as well as on a high profile campaign for 14 weeks maternity leave for all Indonesian women workers.

End of eight-week lockout at Otis

Dec 18, 2014

For eight weeks, workers at Otis Elevators in Australia were locked out as management refused to pay the same rates and conditions as other elevator companies in Australia. Yesterday, Otis conceded and trade unions reached an agreement with Otis.

The lockout happened after 90 per cent of the workers at OTIS voted down a non-union agreement that would slash their pay and conditions. Following unprecedented international support for the locked out Otis workers, an agreement was reached on 17 December.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates ETU (part of CEPU) and AMWU achieved a 3,5 year agreement with a 14 per cent wage increase, increases to daily fares and travel, construction allowances increased to above industry standard, minimum site allowances on all projects, and income protection for the first time.

Allen Hicks, national secretary of ETU says:
“With the great support both internationally and in Australia, our members have stood together and resisted the ideologically driven conservative attack on them.”

IndustriALL had joined Otis workers in New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Ireland and condemned the treatment the workers were subjected to.

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for mechanical engineering says:
“We have stood in firm solidarity with our fellow unionists. We welcome the agreement which shows what difference international support can make.”

IndustriALL also supported the demand that Otis sit down with IndustriALL affiliate AMWU and ETU members to negotiate a fair agreement, covering decent and well-deserved conditions and benefits for workers and their families.

Otis Elevators is one of largest manufacturer and installer of vertical transportation systems in the world.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

77th anniversary of Nanjing massacre

China's president Xi Jinping says no-one can deny the Nanjing massacre, as the country for the first time held a national day of remembrance for the Japanese military rampage that Beijing says killed 300,000 people.

State media estimated 10,000 people attended a ceremony in Nanjing to mark the 77th anniversary of the massacre, including ageing survivors - some in their 90s - of the Japanese invasion of the eastern city on December 13, 1937.

"Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world," Mr Xi said in a speech at the ceremony, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

We should not bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars. Chinese president Xi Jinping

It was the Japanese invasion of China and this massacre that led to the famous Port Kembla Pig-iron dispute in Wollongong in 1938 with the refusal of Waterside Workers to load the British ship the Dalfram with pig-iron destined for Japan ... the dispute saddled atorney General Robert Menzies with the name pig iron bob for the rest of his life

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Amnesty points to UK involvement with CIA torture

Since last night the news has been dominated by the shocking details of the CIA’s programme of torture in secret prisons around the world. 

The damning public summary of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reveals how the CIA used waterboarding, 'rectal feeding', mock executions, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other cruel and degrading treatment against detainees. 

But we still don’t know how deeply the UK was involved. 

Demand the UK government properly investigates the truth 

We know the CIA didn’t act alone.

Along with other US authorities, they engaged a number of partners around the globe, allegedly including the UK, to help facilitate and carry out rendition, secret detention and torture of those suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Today marks Human Rights Day and the 30th anniversary of the Convention against Torture. It’s time for the UK government to properly investigate our country’s role in this programme of torture. 

Take action – demand an independent inquiry now 

Many people were allegedly subjected to torture and rendition during the global counter-terrorism programme operated by the US government and its allies, including the UK, after the attacks on 9/11. 

Despite David Cameron promising an independent judicial inquiry in 2010, the UK government has failed to follow through.

With these latest revelations from the US, the UK government must finally deliver a thorough, impartial, independent, judge-led inquiry which will get at the truth of our country’s involvement in the shocking programme of torture. 

Take action now 

Revised GP co-payment still bad public policy: ACOSS

Wednesday December 10, 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today expressed concern at the ongoing risk to people on low incomes who may be discouraged from seeking timely health advice due to the Government's revised co-payment proposal.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, "We are deeply concerned about people missing out on timely and appropriate medical advice before conditions become serious, due to the increased cost this measure will impose."
"While health care card holders are exempted, they do not cover the many people living with chronic health conditions, nor the growing number of working poor families and elderly people not covered by concessions, who are likely to be hit with a new $5 charge.
“We know that people with chronic health conditions, in particular, need routine health care from GPs and they will be greatly affected by this measure.
“We are also concerned about young people over 16 who are likely to be on low or no incomes and not necessarily on income support because of the tight conditions around independence. They too will be hit.
“While we applaud any move to reduce ineffective and poorly targeted spending within the health Budget, this must be done in line with the equally important priority of improving population health. Unfortunately, this measure has the potential to reduce health and wellbeing, particularly when the evidence shows that such price signaling does not distinguish between genuine health needs. It is unclear who the government sought advice from or consulted with in formulating this new plan.
“We are troubled that it will be patients who will bear the cost, as many doctors will have no option but to demand the $5 from them. It is effectively a co-payment by default," Dr Goldie said.