Friday, February 28, 2014

Warning to Abbott - Health Cuts Cost Lives

Austerity can be bad for your health. Greece has seen drastic increases in infant mortality, suicide and depression since the government made deep cuts to healthcare and social support services between 2009 and 2012. These fallouts may soon be reprised in other countries that have embarked on tough austerity measures, such as Spain and Portugal.

Following the country's financial crash, Greece cut its hospital budget by 25 per cent cut and slashed funding for mental health problems by 55 per cent. An analysis of health statistics shows that as a result, suicides increased 45 per cent between 2007 and 2011 and, over roughly the same period, cases of depression more than doubled and infant mortality rose by 43 per cent.

Needle-exchange schemes and free condoms for injecting drug users were also cut. By 2012, new HIV cases in this group were 32 times what they had been in 2009. The country has also had its first cases of locally spread malaria for 40 years.

"The Greek experience shows the serious consequences of withdrawing health spending and social services," says David Stuckler of the University of Oxford, lead author of the analysis.

Spain next?

The worry is that a similar pattern will be seen in Spain, which introduced similarly savage cuts to health budgets in 2012 and 2013. "We think Spain will follow if the cuts are not reversed," says Helena Legido-Quigley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who last year published a study on how the recession has so far affected health in Spain.

Legido-Quigley says that more recent developments such as the withdrawal of universal access to healthcare from 873,000 non-residents in 2012 could create conditions for epidemics of HIV and TB like those seen when services were withdrawn in Greece. She says there's still time to prevent similar epidemics in Spain, but only by restoring universal healthcare.

False economy

Stuckler says preventing epidemics is far cheaper than controlling them once they've begun. Last year, he produced estimates suggesting that healthcare spending actually boosts the economy, adding more than $4 to the economy for every $1 invested, compared with a drain on the economy of $10 for every $1 invested in defence, for example.

It's a false economy to cut spending on health and welfare, says Stuckler, and both Iceland and Finland survived economic meltdowns without doing so. Instead, they saved public money by not bailing out failed banks, leaving the private sector to pick up the bill.

"Short-term savings gained by drastic austerity measures should be weighed against their long-term costs," says George Slavich of the University of California, Los Angeles, who investigates the long-term effects of stress. "Living in a state of social and economic unpredictability, with inadequate access to healthcare, does not just contribute to short-term illness, it can also set in motion a set of biological processes that greatly affect lifelong health, and which can even lead to premature death," he says.

ACTU: Qantas Jobs Crisis

The savage job cuts at Qantas today are a devastating blow for the workers and their families and will see Australia plunge further into a jobs crisis.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the 5000 sacked Qantas workers are paying the price for poor management decisions and a Federal Government that is out to cut jobs and wages.

“It is not the fault of workers that Qantas is locked in an unprofitable bidding war with Virgin and other foreign government backed airlines, it is not the fault of workers that Jetstar Asia is not making a profit and nor is the rising global cost of fuel the fault of workers,” Mr Oliver said.

“Where did the 5000 figure come from? If workers are going to bear the cost of management mistakes then there must be consultation with the workforce around how that decision was made.

“Qantas seems to have a plan for cuts instead of a plan for growth. What kind of business model is that?“

“Sacking these 5000 workers is not a viable, long term business plan; it’s the easy way out for Qantas. All we have seen today is a plan for cuts, not a plan for growth and the sustainable future of the airline.”

“Unions call on the Government to support these workers by providing Qantas with a debt guarantee subject to a commitment from Qantas to protect workers against job losses and on the airline demonstrating they have a sustainable long term business plan which is not reliant on a spiral of job cuts.”

Mr Oliver said that unions would meet with the Qantas CEO and senior executive on Friday to seek a commitment to minimise job losses, support Qantas employees through the transition and ensure a sustainable long term business strategy is in place that promotes growth.

“Qantas workers are amongst the most productive in the country with each worker generating around $205,000 for the airline on top of the cost of their employment.

“Half of the Qantas workforce earns on average, less than $50,000 a year yet in the past five years Qantas has doubled its number of executives and their salaries have risen by 82%.

“Qantas’ solid reputation has been built of the back of its loyal and hardworking staff, the same people that Alan Joyce called upon in December last year to stand united with him in calling on the Government to support the airline. Little did the workers know it would cost them their jobs.

“Those 17,000 Qantas workers that heeded the call deserve more from airline management and their government.

“The truth of the matter is that Qantas wants the backing of the Abbott Government and in return has sacked 5000 workers, and will undermine the job security of those that remain.

“Mr Abbott has told Qantas to get its house in order which for the Liberals, is code for sacking workers.

“They did it at SPC, they’ve done it at Qantas and what we’ll see in addition to jobs going offshore is local workers being reemployed on contracts with lower pay and less conditions – that’s the Government’s agenda.”

Mr Oliver said Australians expect their Government to stand up and fight for jobs, not do deals with big businesses to sack their workforce.

“The Abbott Government has said their ultimate goal is to change the Qantas Sales Act and they agree that will result in jobs going offshore.  Whilst other governments invest and support their national airlines, we would stand to lose our national carrier and tens of thousands more jobs.

“Make no mistake, this is a Government that is boldly and unashamedly going after workers in this country.

“At a time when unemployment is at record levels and Australians are being confronted with rising job losses every day the Government can’t just stand idly by.”

Fukushima: RadioActivists - Film Premier Wollongong University

Wollongong premiere screening of

A film that explores the anti-nuclear protest movement in Japan
7pm, Tuesday 11 March 2014
University of Wollongong, Building 20, Room 3


On the third anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, come
and learn about the powerful anti-nuclear movement which is changing Japan and the world.
After the film there will be time for a general discussion. Tea and Coffee will be available.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Wollongong: 1938 Dalfram Dispute Remembered - China Link

China's Consul-General Li Huaxin visited Port Kembla on Wednesday morning to learn more about the Dalfram dispute 75 years ago.

While visiting a commemorative plaque in Port Kembla, he praised Australian wharfies and seamen for taking a stand against the government by refusing to load pig iron headed on the Dalfram ship for Japan during their war against China.

"Although this plaque is very small, its significance is very large," he said.

"Standing here I can imagine the scenario of thousands of Australian workers standing to show their sympathy for the Chinese when Japan invaded in 1937."

He applauded the courage of workers, who protested for nine weeks, going without pay over the Christmas period in 1938.

"I was even more moved by the act by many other community members to support them and give them food," he said. "We shall never forget this history."

The attorney-general at the time, Robert Menzies, visited Port Kembla to try to end the stand-off, but was stamped with a name he could never shake - Pig Iron Bob.

After visiting the plaque, the Consul-General watched a preview trailer for Pig Iron Bob - a documentary on the dispute - and launched a booklet on its history at Port Kembla Leagues Club.

He said the booklet and documentary should be placed in Chinese libraries and tertiary institutes.

Pig Iron Bob documentary maker Sandra Pires hoped her team would receive enough funding to interview historians in China and survivors of the war, known as the Rape of Nanking.

"There's a letter of thanks to the Port Kembla workers somewhere in a Chinese museum," she said.

"We want to get over there and do some interviews, but we need the funds."

Ms Pires aims to complete the documentary by November this year.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fukushima Employment Scandle

Private labour contractors in Japan are "recruiting" homeless men and men to work in the disaster area of the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant, taking advantage of their desperation to pay them less than minimum wage and with no proof that their health is being protected.

In a devil's bargain between organized crime bosses and the nation's top construction firms, labourers are exploited by these contractors as they take in state funds for the cleanup, giving them miniscule pay for the dangerous untrained work and then subtracting more for food and lodging.

We call on the government of Japan to investigate this shady practice, ensuring these workers are properly protected from the radiation and being well-compensated for the dangerous work. Don't let these companies keep preying on the homeless to expose them to radiation — write the Japanese government now!


Protect your country's homeless from being exploited and exposed to dangerous radiation levels. Investigate construction companies to make sure they're paying a fair wage and training and protecting their workers.

Click here to sign -- it just takes a second.

-- The folks at

Qld: Campbell Newman on the nose in Redcliffe Election

Liberal National Party candidate Kerri-Anne Dooley had happily handed out how-to-vote cards without being heckled but the mood immediately turned nasty when Campbell Newman arrived.

The opposition to his presence from Labor, unions, independents and many others was overwhelming and chants turned abusive.

"Don't sell assets", "electricity prices up 22.6 per cent", "save our essential services", "leave our reef alone","shame", "put the LNP last", "boo", it was near impossible to find a positive voice.

Even when Mr Newman posed with a baby, some yelled "child abuse".

The LNP is in for a significant loss at the by-election, with a swing of 12 to 17 per cent predicted against it.

Labor is set to pick up its eighth seat in Queensland's 89-seat parliament.

Labor candidate, former federal MP Yvette D'Ath, says voters will finally have their say on the LNP.

"All we have seen for two years is services and jobs taken away," she said.

Operational Matters

T'was on the good ship 'Venus'
My God you should have seen us
The G.P.S. was more ot less
A little joke between us.

The captain's name was Tony
His face was tight and bony
He burn his bum in boiling rum
By being such a phoney.

Close to Indonesia
The whole crew had a seizure
And sad to say, we 'lost our way'
And now we've got amnesia.

Friday, February 21, 2014

RTBU: BHP Threat to Train Drivers - Multinational Corporate Greed

BHP Billiton has threatened to take the union representing coal train drivers to court in response to proposed strike action next week over stalled wage talks.

BHP Mt Arthur Coal general manager Mark van den Heuvel has written to the Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union saying the company will take "all necessary steps" including legal action to prevent harm to its business from any industrial action.

The threat is similar to one made last year by Xstrata Coal when train drivers working for Pacific National went on strike in response to a stalemate in their salary negotiations.

"This is multinational greed at its worst": Bob Nanva. Photo: Marina Neil
Coal train drivers based in the Hunter who work for Aurizon say the company has refused to budge in their negotiations since May last year.

They have threatened a 24-hour stoppage on Tuesday and another on Thursday if the company does not return to the negotiating table. A ban on overtime will also be in place this weekend.

On Wednesday, the RTBU received a threatening letter from BHP, which relies on Aurizon's coal freight service to move its coal supply from Mt Arthur Coal Mine to Newcastle coal terminals.

In his letter to the union, Mr van den Heuvel said any industrial action by Aurizon employees will cause harm to the mine's business by delaying the supply of coal to customers.

"As you will appreciate, particularly in the current economic climate being experienced in the coal mining industry, it is not in the interests of the members of the RTBU or other workers in the industry, for industrial action to be taken which will cause harm to that industry," he said.

RTBU national secretary Bob Nanva said the rights of the workforce to a "fair and reasonable" pay increase was at stake.

"This is multinational greed at its worst. We're seeing a full court press from massive, highly profitable companies who are trying to deny a workforce of 200 train drivers their legitimate right to collectively bargain," Mr Nanva said.

"This issue is no longer about Aurizon workers and their agreement. It's about the right of workers in the hunter and across Australia to collectively bargain without fear, threats or intimidation."

CFMEU: Federal Government prosecutes workers in WA

Seventy six workers are set to be prosecuted by the Federal Government in West Australia for allegedly attending a rally a year ago organised to lobby for employment and training opportunities for young people.

The Fair Work Building Commission is serving summonses on the workers – all from Crown Construction – who attended the rally on February 28, 2013 in Perth as part of a union and community campaign to push for local jobs and local content in West Australia’s mining sector.

CFMEU Construction Secretary Dave Noonan who was one of the speakers at the rally said he was shocked to hear that once again workers were being targeted by a Liberal Government, this time over their democratic right to protest and about something that took place 12 months ago.

“This is an outrageous attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties. There is no problem between the employer and the workers in this case. It is simply the government going after ordinary workers for daring to take a stand on the issue of local jobs and better opportunities for their kids.

“Process servers have been turning up to workers’ homes who are shocked that they are being prosecuted for attending a rally and are looking at a fine of $10,200,” said Mr Noonan.

Mr Noonan said that there is a sense of déjà vu for workers in the construction industry in West Australia.

“In 2006, 107 workers in WA were prosecuted for taking industrial action and they paid thousands of dollars in fines.

“Once again the Liberal Government is treating workers like criminals just because they decided to show their support for a campaign in their community for local jobs.

“Workers are distressed by the prospect of paying huge fines, going to court and having servers at their door putting their families under duress.”

Mr Noonan called on the Prime Minister to stop his attacks on working people.

“Workers in Australia should be able to participate in a peaceful political protest without the threat of being dragged before the courts by the government.

“It’s something you might expect in an authoritarian state, not in a democracy like Australia.”

Mr Noonan said there seemed to a pattern of abuse directed at workers from the government.

“There has been slandering of workers at SPC, denigrating of workers at Toyota and now punitive measures are being imposed on construction workers for attending a rally.

“It’s hard to see this prosecution of 76 workers WA is anything else but another notch in Tony Abbott’s anti worker belt.”

Great White One Percent

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Corporate Culture: SPC Pressured to Slash Pay by 40%

The Abbott government pressed SPC Ardmona to slash pay for workers by as much as 40 per cent under a radical bailout plan for the food processor.

Three union officials told Fairfax Media they had meetings with SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly before Christmas in which Mr Kelly said he was being pressured by the Abbott government to put workers on the award if the company wanted a $25 million subsidy.

Moving workers on to the award would have dramatically cut living standards for hundreds of people at the Shepparton plant, with pay cuts of $20,000 to $30,000 a year for many. Other sources involved in the restructure have separately confirmed to Fairfax Media the Abbott government's pay push at SPC Ardmona. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane refused to directly answer questions on the issue.

The government has been pushing struggling companies such as Toyota and SPC Ardmona to overhaul their workplace agreements as it has repeatedly warned about high wages, which has become a key political issue. That is despite the wage price index growing at just 2.6 per cent last year, the slowest growth in the 16-year history of the series.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said costs were too high. ''We do have a high Australian dollar. We've got to reduce our costs of making things in Australia,'' he said.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said Australia was in a ''job security crisis'' with thousands of jobs lost and wages growth slowing. ''Meanwhile, under the banner of a so-called 'wages blowout', the Abbott government has blamed every economic fallout on workers.

Qld: Nurses Prepare Against Government Attacks

QNU secretary Beth Mohle
The Queensland Nurses’ Union (QNU) has defended the establishment of its Nurse Power fund to support its campaigning, organising and community engagement activities.

From July 1 this year, all QNU active members, regardless of employment status, will be required to contribute up to $1 a week on top of their regular union fees to the new fund.

Delegates at the QNU annual conference, held in August, voted to begin the fund to raise awareness of the nursing and midwifery professions, advance nurses’ and midwives’ pay and conditions, and to advocate for adequate health system funding.

The conference resolution states the Nurse Power fund is also designed to build union strength across all health and aged care sectors and to support the union’s community engagement and community-based campaigning activities.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has attacked the fund which he claims will raise $1.2 million each year from public sector nurses and midwives to support politically-motivated rallies.

In a statement, Mr Springborg said the Newman Government’s decision to award significant pay increases to nurses and midwives was designed to put more money into the pay packets of nurses, not into union slush funds.

“The LNP is all about putting money into the pockets of our valued nurses while the union bosses and Labor are about taking money out of their pockets,” he said.

The QNU released a media statement announcing the fund on August 8.

QNU secretary Beth Mohle said nurses and midwives are working to highlight the state’s need for quality health and aged care services.

“We devote our lives to helping others,” she said.

“This provision of care gives us an insight into what goes on behind closed hospital and aged care facility doors and in the community generally.

“We will never stop campaigning to protect our patients and members.”

Ms Mohle said Queensland has recently lost more than 1100 full-time equivalent nursing positions while health services have been cut and more than 1000 state-run aged care beds have been closed.

CFMEU: Mr. Abbott's Commission Against Unions

The Abbott government's announcement of a royal commission on unions, including the CFMEU, continues a rich tradition of Liberal governments calling royal commissions on unions.

In construction, there have been four in the past 40 years, all called by Liberal leaders. In a speech to the National Press Club in 1981, Lionel Murphy noted that royal commissions tended to have predetermined outcomes, particularly if generated in response to allegations of criminal behaviour. This was, he noted, the reverse of the court system: in royal commissions, as in Alice's wonderland, the verdict precedes the trial.

The CFMEU and our members know this only too well. The Cole royal commission was called by Tony Abbott, then a minister in the Howard government, after he commissioned a report from his ''employment advocate'' who alleged widespread corruption and criminality in the construction industry.
The $66 million circus which followed resulted in no convictions for criminality and one civil prosecution of a company for paying strike pay. Instead, Cole established a template for the industrial laws which became WorkChoices.

Construction workers had the bizarre experience of being admonished for the generosity of their wages and conditions by a retired judge whose salary was a cool $660,000 per annum.Liberal governments have more form than Darcy Dugan when it comes to using royal commissions as a political weapon to attack their opponents in the labour movement. If Abbott was sincere in shining a very bright light on wrongdoing, corruption and illegal activity, then why do the commission's terms of reference exclude this kind of activity in corporate Australia? It's not as if there's a shortage of allegations.

A few days ago in The Australian newspaper, a former executive of UGL accused the company of ''cooking the books'' and alleged that it engaged in racial discrimination.

Last year, as The Age revealed, allegations regarding Leighton involving bribery, kickbacks, corruption and improper conduct in the highest echelons of the company dominated the media for weeks on end. It was reported that the company allowed the allegations to fester despite senior management knowing about them for a year.

Two weeks ago, we saw press reports that Walton Construction, which collapsed late last year owing $50 million to workers and small businesses, was a major funder of the Liberal National Party. At the time of the collapse, the company was paying ''rent'' to a property trust. According to AEC records, Altum P/L (which is a Liberal National Party front) received $1.4 million from Walton Construction, some while the administrator believes Walton was insolvent.

In 2012, following the revelation of financial reporting irregularities by Lend Lease on large government projects in Queensland and Victoria, the CFMEU called for a government inquiry. Instead, a few senior executives quietly resigned, while Lend Lease held an internal inquiry and promptly cleared themselves.
As regular as clockwork, there are reports of allegations of serious corporate wrongdoing in the construction and other industries. When a union is the subject of allegations, Abbott and his henchmen shout them from the rooftops. When corporate Australia is accused of crimes or rorts, Liberal laryngitis is the disease du jour.

Some other countries seem to treat these issues more seriously. In 2012, following investigations by the FBI in the United States, Lend Lease chief James Abadie pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit fraud by overbilling the company's clients for more than a decade. Lend Lease was ordered to pay $56 million in penalties to the US federal government and restitution to victims of fraud and to institute far-reaching corporate reforms.

If politicians and journalists are looking for a scandal in the construction industry they need look no further than the workers in Sydney protesting for wages owed for work they have done. They were employed by Steve Nolan Construction - a company that has gone broke owing $30 million to workers and small business owners. Steve Nolan Construction has also donated generously to the Liberal Party - both in NSW and federally - a total of $200,000.

Will the royal commission look into this? Or will the money some companies have paid to Liberal ''slush funds'' insure them against the glare of our Prime Minister's bright light?

CFMEU members work in an industry full of risk - both physical and financial - on a daily basis. It is the union that chases companies for lost wages and entitlements; it is the union which tries to instil safety measures and regulations on sites; and it is the union which has to deal with unscrupulous employers who take shortcuts to increase their bottom line.

And it is the union that our Prime Minister has in his sights. The vast majority of CFMEU members, delegates and officials are honest people doing their job as best they can. The union will not defend or accept corruption in its ranks; after all any unionist who accepts a bribe has betrayed their members and made common cause with the employer who offered the bribe. When corruption has been proved the union has acted in the past and will act in the future.

A politician serious about combating crime would properly fund the Australian Crime Commission, which has all of the powers of a standing royal commission. This would not, however, serve Abbott's political agenda.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that Abbott doesn't really want a royal commission to fix criminality and corruption, rather he wants to damage his opponents, in particular the union movement which defeated WorkChoices in 2007.

The Prime Minister's claim that he is on the side of the honest worker rings hollow when we see him lie about workers' wages and conditions at Toyota and SPC. It is clear he is determined to allow corporate Australia to keep their darker activities away from the beam of his carefully directed spotlight.

Read more

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Erin Brockovich hears fears of workers in Toowoomba

Well-known United States environmental crusader and Shine Lawyers ambassador Erin Brockovich says she always learns something new when she comes to Toowoomba.

Ms Brockovich yesterday met members and representatives of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) at the Tiddalac retreat in Murphys Creek.

She heard about problems facing meatworkers including long-term local workers' concerns their voices weren't being heard.

Workers were worried those on sub-class visas, who weren't going to get Australian citizenships, were able to vote on workplace conditions when they were likely to be in a workplace for only three to six months.

Representatives from the AMIEU voiced their opinions at the meeting which allowed Ms Brockovich, Shine representatives and AMIEU members to discuss important developments in laws protecting meat industry employees, and said they didn't know where to turn to or who to approach about the problem.

One worker said he found it "quite stressful" those workers were able to vote on the working conditions.

"The long-term workers are getting shafted," Ms Brockovich said.

Ms Brockovich inspired the Oscar award-winning motion picture Erin Brockovich in 2000 (starring Julia Roberts) after she spearheaded the largest settlement in US history for a toxic tort involving 600 residents from the Californian town of Hinkley.

Ms Brockovich will be in Dalby today speaking with farmers about their issues with coal seam gas.

ACOSS to appear at Senate Inquiry into Commission of Audit

ACOSS will appear before the Senate Inquiry into the Commission of Audit at 2.30pm today (Tuesday 18 February) in Canberra.

CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will tell Select Senate Committee members that the Commission of Audit is an important opportunity to review Commonwealth expenditure with a view to long-term structural reform to put the budget on a sustainable footing.

However, she will argue that the Commission will be a missed opportunity if tax expenditures are off the table and if the process is done behind closed doors, with a view to short term savings.

Dr Goldie wants to see the Commission of Audit focus on identifying current waste in the Federal Budget in the form of generous tax breaks and poorly targeted programs, and avoid recommending cuts to funding that is already well-targeted to low income and vulnerable communities.

In its submission to the Commission of Audit, ACOSS has cautioned the Federal Government against relying on a ‘quick fix’ of spending cuts to restore the Budget, pointing out that the deficit is mainly due to falling revenues, and proposes this be restored to pre-GFC levels to raise an additional $23 billion a year.

ACOSS will outline its concerns about the scope and process of the commission, which it maintains should be conducted in an open and transparent manner with active community participation.

AWU Negotiates Bell Bay Smelter Deal

Bell Bay Aluminium Smelter on the Tamar River Tasmania

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) has agreed to a workplace agreement with Rio Tinto Ltd that will enhance job security and protect conditions in return for concessions on wages.

Workers at the Bell Bay aluminium smelter in Tasmania will still be on a performance-related pay structure, though there will be no annual across-the-board pay rises.

The deal for employees was welcomed by both sides, with AWU national secretary Paul Howes saying it offered certainty for employees.

“It’s actually really a model for how workers and employers can work together during tough economic times to make these plants more productive, this is an agreement and arrangement which demonstrates that the union movement is able to move with the times.”

Monday, February 17, 2014

Queensland's 'Ridiculous' Bikie Laws

A senior barrister says Queensland's anti-bikie laws make the state look ridiculous.

In a scathing address at a lawyers conference on the Gold Coast, Stephen Keim said the Newman government's laws breached human rights.

Mr Keim has already sparked tension with the government after pointing out he was stripped of government work after publicly criticising its sex offender laws.

The barrister said the government's Vicious Lawless Disestablishment Act (VLAD), which makes a gathering of three or more bikies or their associates unlawful, was aptly named.

"It may well impale the hopes and dreams of generally law-abiding families on a stake of injustice," Mr Keim told the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) Queensland conference, referencing Vlad the Impaler.

He argued the laws, which impose mandatory minimum sentencing of 15 to 25 years, breach article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil Rights and other human rights principles.

"But I think one of the worst things that the legislation does is it makes the law, the legislation, the government, our state, us - it makes us look ridiculous," he said. "That - if not a crime - is at least a sin."

He referred to the arrests of the Yandina 5, a group of five men who met for a beer at a Sunshine Coast pub, and another group of five who were buying ice cream on the Gold Coast during a family holiday.

He was also critical of other aspects of the laws, including harsher bail provisions. But the barrister was particularly disapproving of the laws that prevent people working - by refusing them an electrical licence for instance - because they have been linked to a criminal organisation.

"If people are prevented from earning a living, eventually they have to steal bread," he said, suggesting the laws would increase rather than prevent crime.

Mr Keim said Premier Campbell Newman's political strategy was simplistic.

"(There is) so much bad governance in his assault on good governance that no one has time to discuss it and it is hard to remember it all".

Other presenters were also critical of the government, with ALA Queensland President Michelle James issuing a call to arms in the wake of Mr Newman labelling lawyers "hired guns" who were part of the "criminal gang machine".

"Our profession has come under unprecedented and sustained attack from the Queensland government," she told delegates.

"I challenge each of you to stand up for our profession with the same tenacity you display with standing up for your clients by continuing to express your concern and disapproval of such unfortunate commentary."

Read more:

Profiting From Job Losses

The unemployment rate is now worse than it was at the height of the GFC, but company profits are rising. How do we explain this?

Company profits are rising right now largely because companies are reducing their costs, and that means they're shedding staff or not hiring new staff.

With economic growth sluggish at the moment, the easy way for many companies to lift their profits is to take costs out of their business by sacking workers.

The major cost-cutters are the big miners: after having either halted or curbed spending on new mines, they are now shedding jobs and capitalising on still quite high commodity prices.

There are already signs of that in the profit numbers. For example, the building products company Boral reported a 73 per cent jump in half year profits last week thanks to a surging housing sector.

Rising company profits and record dividend payouts also pleased equity investors last week. The share market rose 3.7 per cent, which was its best performance in nearly two years.

Natalegawa says Australia and Indonesia should be "looking out for each other"

Indonesia says it cannot comprehend Australia's "mind-boggling" explanation that spying on sensitive trade talks was a national security matter.

The New York Times has published claims the Australian Signals Directorate gathered intelligence for America during Indonesian trade negotiations last year.

It says a top-secret 2013 document obtained by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed the agency carried out surveillance on a US law firm representing Indonesia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to comment on the matter, but says anything that is gathered is "for the benefit of our friends".

Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa says he cannot understand how the talks could be a security matter for Australia.

"I find that a bit mind-boggling and a bit difficult how I can connect or reconcile discussion about shrimps and how it impacts on Australia's security," he told reporters.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Stop Abbott, Save Medicare"

Hundreds of people have gathered outside Sydney's Town Hall to protest against any moves to water down Medicare and introduce patient payments to see a bulk-billing GP.

Waving banners reading "Stop Abbott, Save Medicare, Free Universal Health Care, the rally has called for the government to rule out any changes to Medicare.

Speaking at the demonstration, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek paid tribute to the introduction of the health system, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.

"Before Medicare millions of Australians used to be bankrupted.

"Medical bills were the highest cause of bankruptcy in Australia, as they still are today in the United States," she told those gathered.

She called for the government to rule out any introduction of a GP co-payment, which would require patients to fork out a suggested $6 per consultation.

It comes just weeks after Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed claims that the government was planning to introduce a fee, as nothing more than a scare campaign.

"Nothing is being considered, nothing has been proposed, nothing is planned," Mr Abbott told reporters earlier this month.

But Ms Plibersek told reporters on Saturday that on "the very same night on the 7.30 Report, (Treasurer) Joe Hockey said nothing is off the table".

She said while the fee is small, if it was introduced it would be prohibitive for some and would ultimately cost the system more.

"What we know is that any illness treated early is much better for the patient and much better for the health system," she said.

General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) Brett Holmes said he didn't want a system where the question of money is the first thing that is asked when a patient walks in the door.

"If that forces too many people into the hospitals, we will put a co-payment on emergency department services as well.

"This is an idea that will be expanded and expanded if it happens"

Mr. Abbott's Amazing Indigenous Pay Gap

Hundreds of Aboriginal public servants drafted into Tony Abbott's department to help "close the gap" are being paid up to $19,000 less than their new white colleagues doing the same jobs.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has more than 260 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bureaucrats, brought in from the old FaHCSIA department in a plan to bring indigenous policy under the PM's control.

But while the Prime Minister spoke last week of "closing the gap" in indigenous disadvantage in Australia, hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bureaucrats were settling into their new jobs working for Mr Abbott's department on wages well below those of their new non-indigenous co-workers.

There was more bad news for the department's officials on Friday afternoon as Secretary Ian Watt told his staff that PM&C could not afford to maintain its present staffing levels and that job losses were inevitable.

In another blow to indigenous voices in the federal arena, representative body the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples says it is sacking two-thirds of its workforce, a loss of 23 jobs, after the federal government cut its funding.

The new Prime Minister's Department recruits from the old FaHCSIA department and 854 of the non-indigenous employees have been told they will not be getting the same wages as their new well-paid co-workers at PM&C and will continue to be paid their old salaries.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Stern Report: Climate Change is here

The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

Many commentators have suggested that we are suffering from unprecedented extreme weather. There are powerful grounds for arguing that this is part of a trend.

Four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years.

That is not a coincidence. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week.

A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising.

But it is not just here that the impacts of climate change have been felt through extreme weather events over the past few months. Australia has just had its hottest year on record, during which it suffered record-breaking heatwaves and severe bushfires in many parts of the country. And there has been more extreme heat over the past few weeks.

Argentina had one of its worst heatwaves in late December, while parts of Brazil were struck by floods and landslides following record rainfall.

And very warm surface waters in the north-west Pacific during November fuelled Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world, which killed more than 5,700 people in the Philippines.

This is a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore.

More from Nicholas Stern in the Guardian

Mr Abbott's Inquisition !

Somewhere in Canberra someone sat down with instructions to draft terms of reference that would know no limits. The result is something that looks like the bastard child of a fishing expedition and the Spanish Inquisition.

Slowly the layers are added, starting with instructions to look at the governance arrangements of ''separate entities'' established by trade unions - financial management, accountability, the use of funds. It further directs specific attention (without limitation) into those unions where conceivably most of the skeletons are gathered. The inquiry must also probe the extent to which anyone ''represented by a union'' may have done something wrong in relation to the activities of these ''separate entities'', and whether any law, regulation or professional standard has been breached. There is to be scrutiny, too, of bribes, secret commissions and other unlawful payments or benefits that flow between unions, their officers and ''any other party''. Then there must be recommendations on tightening up the law so that it can more effectively catch and punish those who need to be caught.

Then, just in case this free-wheeling assault doesn't hit the jackpot, there is this:

''The participation of any person, associations or organisations other than registered employee associations or their officers in conduct described [in all the other main parts of the terms of reference].'' Shorthand translation for that is ''the participation of anybody in anything''.

And there's no timeframe. Conceivably investigations into beastly things could go back to 1915.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott put it all in terms of shining a spotlight into dark corners. It hardly needs to be said that this is an expensive political exercise designed to run with spotlights going night and day.

The Costigan royal commission, created by the Fraser government, into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, veered into the bottom-of-the-harbour schemes of tax-evading business people and the activities of Kerry Packer.

The Heydon commission could just as readily catch prominent supporters and funders of the Coalition in its spotlight, dragging the focus from where it is meant to be - rorters in the union movement and their allies in the ALP.

Despite the perils, the royal commission will provide a much needed shot in the arm for the legal profession, principally the needy denizens of Phillip Street.

Forget the workers at SPC Ardmona or Toyota. This is the better part of $100 million to the feather-bedding experts.

Read more Richard Ackland SMH:

Qld: Newman Attacks Unions and Kills Jobs

The Newman LNP government’s obsession with its law and order crackdown has led Queensland into dangerous unemployment territory, unions say.

ABS figures released today show that Queensland’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate climbed to 6.1 per cent in January, with 11,700 fewer Queenslanders in work than the previous month.

Since the Newman government came into power in March 2012, it has seen the unemployment rate climb from 5.5 per cent to 6.1 per cent, heading away from its promise of a 4 per cent jobless rate.

Queensland Council of Unions President John Battams said the Newman government had misdirected its priorities and now the unemployment rate was at GFC levels.

“They’ve been boasting about getting tough on crime – well they need to get tough on unemployment  too,” he said.

“It’s time this government devoted some creativity and energy to ensuring a healthy employment environment in Queensland.

“Instead, the Liberal National Party across the country particularly seems to be actively encouraging the demise of our manufacturing industry, which is still a major employer.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unemployment Figures: Worst For Ten Years

13 February, 2014 | ACTU Media Release

With the release of the worst unemployment figures in over a decade, the question on every Australian’s lips is, when is Tony Abbott going to step up and fight for jobs?

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said today’s alarming figures – a sharp increase in the unemployment rate to 6% - must act as a wakeup call to Tony Abbott.

"These are the worst unemployment numbers in over a decade, the highest since July 2003, and indicative of the direction Australia is heading," Mr Oliver said.

“Every day workers in this country are confronted with more job losses, more jobs going offshore and continued inaction from the Abbott Government.

“We know Australians are struggling with the cost of living and worried about job security but they’re getting cold comfort from a Federal Government that has made clear it won’t stand up for working people.”

Mr Oliver said there were two urgent priorities to protect Australia's economic prosperity - one is job creation and the other is to avoid a slash and burn Budget with further cuts.

"If the Abbott Government serves up a slash-and-burn Budget in May as promised it will throw more Australians out of work and onto the dole queues,” Mr Oliver said.

"Reduced spending or increased taxes in these conditions will make a bad situation worse.

"Tony Abbott must urgently spell out a plan for job creation and back up his promise of one million new jobs within five years.”

Mr Oliver said that there are now 34,900 more unemployed Australians than there were 6 months ago when Tony Abbott came into office, with the biggest rise in unemployment over the past year in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

"With the demise of car manufacturing we know things will get worse, particularly in South Australia and Victoria," Mr Oliver said.

"The Abbott Government goaded Holden into leaving, they did absolutely nothing to keep Toyota in this country and as a result Australia will lose up to 50,000 direct skilled jobs, $21 billion will be wiped from the economy and regions will go into recession.

"The impact from these and other job losses announced since the Abbott Government took office will hurt the economy and see unemployment continue to rise in Australia."

"Six hundred jobs must be added to the economy every day in order for Mr Abbott to fulfil his election promise to create one million new jobs within five years. That's looking very unlikely."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Union calls for Abbott to investigate slush funds linked to LNP

The CFMEU has expressed grave concern that the narrow terms of the Royal Commission appear to exclude slush funds in the construction industry that are linked to the Liberal National Party (NLP).

National CFMEU Construction Secretary, Dave Noonan said if Tony Abbott was serious about shining a torch on slush funds, there is no reason why property developer Walton Construction and Steve Nolan Construction should be exempt from being investigated by the Royal Commission.“Both Walton Construction and Steve Nolan Construction are in need of some very bright light shone on them.”

It has been reported that a property trust linked to the LNP, received $430,000 in rent from Walton Construction last year. At the same time, the company collapsed, owing workers $2.9 million in wages and entitlements.

Steve Nolan Construction, which AEC records reveal donated $150,000 to the LNP in New South Wales, and $50,000 to the LNP nationally, in late 2012 and early 2013, has gone into administration, owing more than $30 million to workers and small business owners.

 “Australian Electoral Commission records reveal that the Property Trust, and its trustee Altum P/L is a Liberal National Party fundraising organisation. Its Board includes LNP state party treasurer and Senator – elect Barry O’Sullivan.

“It is clearly recorded that they received more than $1.4 million from Walton Construction,” said Mr Noonan.

Walton Construction went into liquidation last year with debts to the tune of $50 million. Queensland Government Housing Minister, Tim Mander committed to publicly examine Walton Director, Craig Walton and to investigate the $50 million collapse after a meeting with some very angry and distressed small business owners late last year.

This includes lost wages to workers and sub contractors for work completed – a situation which the CFMEU deals with on a regular basis, according to Mr Noonan.

“We currently have 200 workers in New South Wales who are owed millions of dollars in lost wages by Steve Nolan Construction. The workers are on the street at two different sites in Sydney protesting against the developer in an attempt to get some of the money they’re owed.

“The terms of reference of the Royal Commission exclude companies in this situation, who have ripped off hundreds of workers and small businesses, from being investigated.

“We call on Mr Abbott to explain why property developers who have donated to LNP slush funds will be excluded from the Royal Commission.”

Toyota: Hockey's Blame Game Backfires

On Wednesday, Mr Hockey endorsed a newspaper article that said Mr Yasuda had claimed generous workplace conditions were the main impediment to Toyota staying in Australia.

The report in the Financial Review said that Mr Yasuda told the Treasurer he could convince Toyota's management in Tokyo to stay in Australia as long as the company could wind back its workplace benefits."It was a private conversation, but it's an accurate report," Mr Hockey told Fairfax Radio.
"I stood in Parliament and said it quite bluntly, that if the AMWU [Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union] continued down this path it would be very hard for Toyota to stay in Australia, and time's proven it to be correct".

But Toyota's management has directly contradicted Mr Hockey's version of events, releasing a statement denying that it blamed the union for its decision to leave Australia.

"Toyota Australia has never blamed the union for its decision to close its manufacturing operations by the end of 2017, neither publicly or in private discussions with any stakeholders," the company said in a statement.
"As stated at the time of the announcement, there is no single reason that led to this decision.
"The market and economic factors contributing to the decision include the unfavourable Australian dollar ... and low economies of scale for our vehicle production and local supplier base.
"Together with one of the most open and fragmented automotive markets in the world and increased competitiveness due to current and future Free Trade Agreements, it is not viable to continue building cars in Australia."

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union issued statement welcoming Toyota's denial that workers conditions led the company to end manufacturing in Australia.
"It's another blow to the government's credibility – after GM Holden and SPC Ardmona both refuted the government’s claim that workers’ pay and conditions were to blame for industry troubles,’’ the statement said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that it was a tough enough time for Toyota workers and their families, and described Mr Hockey’s comments on workers' conditions as "cruel and heartless".
"This is the most difficult time for these workers – they don’t need Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey kicking them in the guts while they’re down," he said.
"Aside from how heartless it is, it’s just wrong.
"I want Toyota workers to know that the death of the car industry is not their fault, it's Tony Abbott's."

Read more - Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CPSU: Abetz Rubbery Figures To Axe More than 23,000 Jobs

The CPSU says government modelling that claims more than 23,000 public sector jobs would have to go in order to fund a new wages deal is ‘ludicrous’. Government figures reported in the media on the weekend suggest that 23,460 public servants would have to be sacked if the Government agreed to a 4% per year increase in wages over the next three years.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “A cut of 23,460 jobs would equate to around 14% of all public servants. It is just ludicrous to suggest that a 4% pay rise would lead to such large cuts.

“The Government hasn’t shared this modelling with unions, government agencies or workers, choosing instead to give it directly to the media. It is pretty obvious the figures have been cooked up to provide cover for a Government intent on making  more wide-scale cuts to jobs and services.” Ms Flood said.

“Once again the Government is saying workers’ wages and conditions are the source of all problems in the economy.”

Over the past four months the CPSU has consulted widely with tens of thousands of union members across the public service. “Our log of claims reflect the fact that public servants are just like everyone else, ordinary working people with families to feed and mortgages to pay,” Ms Flood said.

“We’ve been ready and willing to sit down with Government and begin the serious and sober business of constructive negotiation. Sadly it appears the Government is more interested in bomb-throwing,” she added.

Ms Flood said public sector workers would be dismayed by the actions of this Government, in particular that of Senator Eric Abetz, who is ultimately in charge of the public service. “Senator Abetz has effectively shut the door on mums working in Centrelink, hardworking Border and Customs agents and the thousands of other public servants who’ve been ready to sit around the table and bargain in good faith to hammer out a reasonable deal.”

The CPSU said the community and public servants are judging this Government on its actions, and it has been found wanting. “There has been a constant stream of public service cuts ever since the Abbott Government was elected. From day one this Government has cut almost 4000 jobs with the Commission of Audit expected to cut thousands more. Yet now the community is expected to believe the Government’s key concern is saving jobs. Too cute by half.”

Howard's Farewell to the Battlers

Senate Select Committee to vet Business Council Commission of Audit

In Australia, we can be proud that we have a society that reflects the values of fairness  and egalitarianism.

Those values have always been reflected in the role of government in providing public services and support that ensure everyone has access to decent services and no-one is left behind.

But now the future role of government and the public services all Australians rely on is under threat from a big-business dominated razor gang.

The National Commission of Audit, chaired by the President of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd, with four other members linked to the Liberal Party and big business has made it clear that nothing is off limits when it comes to looking for cost savings.

They are operating in secret and the Government won't release the report until after the May Budget, leaving Australians in the dark about what vital services will be cut.

With so many important programs at risk it's time that the government hears what is important to you.

The ALP and Greens have set up a Senate Select Committee to shed light on the inner workings of the secret Commission of Audit.

So while Tony Abbott might want the Commission of Audit to operate in the shadows, you can let them know what workers and their families need in their communities.

The Select Committee is taking submissions about what you value in your community and what you want ruled out from cuts and privatisation.

What's on the table?

  • Cuts to Medicare and introduction of new GP Fees
  • Privatising the ABC, SBS and Australian Post
  • Merging Australian Post and Centrelink
  • Means testing for the pension, including the family home
  • Raising the GST
  • Selling the Australian Submarine Corporation
  • Privatising health services
  • Massive job cuts and cuts to essential services
  • Changes to education funding

- See more at:

Monday, February 10, 2014

AMWU: Car Industry Dies - Toyota Leaves in 3 Years - Recession Warning

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says the decision is devastating and could cause an economic recession.

"This decision will see thousands of jobs exit Australia - not only at Toyota directly but all the way down the supply chain," national AMWU vehicle secretary Dave Smith said in a statement.

"The magnitude of this decision in the community cannot be underestimated. We are looking at a potential recession all along the south-eastern seaboard."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the closure is an "unmitigated disaster".

 "The car industry has died under the Abbott government - it's a disgrace," he said.

In December, following Holden's decision to stop making cars in Australia in 2017, Toyota warned that it was facing "unprecedented pressure" on its ability to continue.

At the time Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out giving the Japanese carmaker any extra taxpayer money.

He said the Federal Government wanted "Toyota to continue" and revealed he had personally spoken to Mr Yasuda.

Holden announced in early December that it would stop making cars in Australia by 2017 due to a "perfect storm" of poor economic conditions.

Its decision will put 2,900 Holden employees out of work - 1,600 from the manufacturing plant in South Australia and 1,300 in Victoria.

ACTU Pre-Budget Submission 2014

10 February, 2014 | Submission

The Budget is an opportunity for the Government to protect Australian jobs, secure economic growth, and address the challenge of rising inequality. The Government should not take the low road of confected fiscal crisis and cuts to jobs and services.

In this submission, the ACTU calls on the Government to:

  • Create an Australian Jobs Plan;    
  • Adopt a short-run fiscal strategy that won’t harm jobs and growth;
  • Resist short-sighted cuts to public services;
  • Implement a proper, comprehensive spending review process rather than the Commission of Audit;
  • Conduct a tax review with representation from a broad range of sectors, including unions;
  • Increase Newstart Allowance and index it to wages;
  • Reform superannuation tax concessions; and
  • Retain vital, profit-making Government assets.

We also outline the economic context for the Budget. We note that while the Australian economy has performed very well in recent years relative to virtually all other advanced economies, the past six months have seen the largest drop in employment in over a decade. Tighter fiscal policy would make this worse.

We carefully examine the fiscal context, showing that Australia’s net debt remains very low by international standards, and our structural budget balance is on a sound trajectory. We argue that the main long-run budget problem, to the extent we have one, is a structural decline in revenue due to the unsustainable tax cuts of the mid-2000s.

Abbott's Commission

ACTU President Dave Oliver said he would review the terms of references closely to ensure they applied equally, 'not just to unions, but to employer associations' as well.

'Every day union officials are out there dealing with crook bosses who rip off workers who provide unsafe working conditions,' he said.

Oliver expressed concern over the costs of a royal commission and the long term implications it could have for the trade union movement.

'The royal commission is going to cost $100 million, from a government that just two weeks ago denied SPC in Shepparton $25 million, which could in fact see that company disappear.'

The union official said the probe was designed to 'to weaken the trade union movement' to ensure the coalition's longevity in government.

"Let's call it for what it is; this government does not like unions," Mr Oliver said.

'This government since 2007, when they lost mainly as a result of the union movement coming together with the community to campaign against bad laws, has been working out a way to try and weaken the union movement to ensure that that doesn't happen again.'

Mr Oliver is concerned that a royal commission will lead to an all-out attack on wages and working conditions by the Abbott government.

'We've already heard them out there at the moment supporting employers' calls to reduce reduction of penalty rates.'

'Senior people out there are expressing concern about minimum rates of pay ... we are deeply concerned that this whole thing is motivated and designed to weaken the trade union movement and then ultimately go after wages and conditions like they did with WorkChoices.'

Opposition leader Bill Shorten called for a joint police taskforce into allegations officials had been involved in bribery, extortion and kickbacks, and linked to organised crime on major projects such as Sydney's Barangaroo development.

The royal commission was a political stunt that would cost more than $100 million, he said.

"This is a job for police, not politicians," Mr Shorten said.
"The politicians should get out of the way and let the police get on and do their job."

Asked if the royal commission should also investigate employers, not just union officials, Mr Shorten said: "I've got no doubt that if there's a royal commission everyone would get looked at, employers and union reps.
"The government just wants to say that if there is any problems in building and construction, it's a union issue."

ACTU president Ged Kearney dubbed the commission an expensive "witch-hunt", and said it was police who should probe union corruption.

She linked the commission to the coalition's recent attack on "overgenerous" enterprise agreements at companies such as SPC Ardmona, and its Fair Work Commission submission calling for a rethink on penalty rates.

"Australians are very cynical about this," she said.
"They'll know this for what this is."

ACOSS: Needs Not Wants - Call for Budget Fairness

Monday February 10, 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to deliver on its promise to put the nation’s Budget on a sustainable long-term footing in a fair way that doesn’t leave anyone behind, adding that future government entitlements and subsides should be based on needs, not wants.

Speaking at the release of the peak body’s Federal Budget submission, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said, “We agree with the Treasurer that it’s our duty to help people who are most vulnerable in our community. People are entitled to expect Governments to provide income support and essential services such as age pensions, health services, and tax breaks for superannuation, but those entitlements can only be sustained and improved if they are based on need.”

Dr Goldie said, “Now is the right time for Government action to clamp down on wasteful and inefficient expenditure to allow us to close the worst gaps in our economic and social infrastructure.”

“The Coalition Government’s first Budget is a real opportunity to better direct spending and tax breaks to areas of greatest need, such as adequate income support and employment assistance for people who are unemployed. There’s also great need in the areas of affordable housing and child care for low and middle income families, and for maintaining the critical support provided by community services helping the most vulnerable members of our community.

“The budget should take urgent action to meet the needs of those who are excluded from the benefits of a wealthy society - a job, affordable housing, a decent income, and basic community services such as disability services and dental and mental health care.

“These priorities are all the more important at a time when employment growth is stagnating. Already we see that more than 60% of people receiving the unemployment allowance Newstart are left to survive for a year or more on $36 a day without access to the training, work experience and job counselling they need to help them secure a job. More people are likely to face this experience in the coming year with the unemployment rate expected to rise to 6%.

“ACOSS supports a review of government entitlements, but it should take aim at wasteful and poorly targeted programs, not benefits and services for people who are already doing it tough such as homeless people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, unemployed people and people living with disabilities and relying on income support.

“The Government cannot ignore the fact that much of the waste in the budget lies on the tax side of the ledger. For instance, super tax breaks cost around $40 billion each year, about the same as the Age Pension. Almost a third of the tax breaks for super contributions go to the top 10% of workers.

“The current set of retirement and age-based tax concessions are both unfair and inefficient. As the population ages, governments will face increasing and legitimate demands on health and aged care services, yet less than 20% of individuals over the age of 64 pay any income tax.

“Clearly, this is not sustainable. To begin the process of reigning in these subsidies, ACOSS proposes restoring the $25,000 annual cap on concessionally-taxed super contributions. We also want to see the curbing of income tax avoidance by the ‘churning’ of wages through superannuation accounts that pay an equivalent pension; and progressively extending the 15% tax on super fund earnings to accounts in the ‘pensions phase’.

“Another key area of reform is housing tax concessions, and in particular negative gearing which encourages excessive borrowing to invest in existing rental properties with a view to making capital gains rather than rental returns. This contributes to house price inflation and excessive levels of household debt during investment booms.

“Our proposal is to quarantine deductions for expenses relating to passive investment in housing, shares, collectables and similar assets purchased after 1 January 2015 to offset income received from those assets, including capital gains realised on their subsequent sale.

“We propose that half the revenue savings from this measure be earmarked to help alleviate Australia’s worsening housing affordability crisis through an Affordable Housing Growth Fund and future expansion of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

“On the spending side, there is scope to redirect health and child care programs towards those in most need and to stem inflation in costs to consumers and Governments at the same time. The health insurance rebate for ‘extras’ cover and Extended Medicare Safety Net should be removed and child care assistance restructured to absorb the Child Care Rebate into a simpler, better targeted Child Care Benefit.

“The Age Pension is a vital safety net for retirees and ACOSS supported the recent pension increases for singles. To put the pension on a more sustainable footing, it should be better targeted. As a result of a poorly conceived easing of the assets test in 2007, a couple over 65 with assets apart from their home worth a million dollars can now claim a part pension.

“Retirees whose income and assets are too high to qualify for a pension under these rules receive a Seniors Supplement. These public supports are clearly not well targeted to people who need them.

“Our Budget proposals would improve the bottom line by $1 billion in 2014-15, $5 billion the following year, and much more in future years, making room to fund the services that will be needed by an ageing population.

“This gradual tightening of the Budget, paid for by curbing wasteful and poorly target programs, is the fair and responsible path to budget reform,” Dr Goldie said.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

CPSU: No to Cuts and Privatisation - Latest Research

Feb 07, 2014

More than eight out of ten people support keeping government spending at their current levels, the results of an influential poll have found.

Only 12% of those questioned favoured government cuts, according to a recent poll conducted by the Australian National University.

More than 1100 people were asked if they wanted to see cuts to programs to reduce the “power of government” or whether government programs should be maintained to “deal with important problems”.

The results come as the Abbott Government gets ready to receive a draft report by the National Commission of Audit which is expected to recommend large scale cuts to services and the privatisation of government assets.

The CPSU has been campaigning hard to protect public sector jobs and services in the face of cuts and attacks from the Abbott Government, business lobby groups and free market think tanks.

Forty two per cent of those questioned in the ANU poll supported the current levels of spending, with a further 39% strongly supporting the view.

The results of the poll led the ANU’s Social Research Centre in Melbourne to conclude that “there is an overwhelming support for maintaining government programs at their current levels.”

The results also give a clear signal that there is little public support for the reduction of government services and comes off the back of another survey last month that voters remain deeply opposed to any privatisation.

Privatisation is regarded as a bad idea by 59% of voters, according to Essential Research in results published in late January. While Labor and Greens voters are more strongly opposed to it only 31% of Liberal voters think privatising government assets is a good idea.

Opposition to privatisation among all voters rose when some specific government services were mentioned such as Australia Post, and ABC and SBS. More than a 1000 people were surveyed.

The ANU research also found that the majority of people said that government was the most appropriate body to deliver services, such as health, education, a decent standard of living for the elderly, reducing poverty and managing the economy to avoid recession. Only a small minority – just 10% - thought the private sector is best placed to do any of the above – in this case managing the economy.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Cape Town: Rio Tinto Global Union Network

06 February 2014

On Thursday, the Rio Tinto Global Union Network took to the streets of Cape Town, supported by hundreds of members from IndustriALL Global Union affiliated mining unions, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and South African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (SACTWU). The demonstrators demanded an end to Rio Tinto’s bad corporate behaviour at its operations around the world.

The rally culminated outside the Cape Town Convention Centre, where the world’s largest congress on mining, the Mining Indaba, was on its last day. Members of mining unions, as well as members of NGO’s, came together to point the spotlight on workers’ struggle for decent work at Rio Tinto plants across the world.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, said that the race to the bottom must stop.
”As Rio Tinto is generating enormous profits from its operations, workers are struggling with unsafe, precarious work. The benefits from the mines should be shared with everyone and not only used for increasing company profits. Today’s situation is un-acceptable.”

The rally through Cape Town marked the end of a three-day long meeting of the IndustriALL’s Rio Tinto Global Union Network and the official launch of its campaign to increase unionisation at Rio Tinto.

Thanking everyone who attended the rally for their support, Andrew Vickers, general secretary of Australian affiliate CFMEU and chair of the IndustriALL mining section, said:
“Thank you for your support to launch this campaign to stop Rio Tinto – to stop Rio Tinto disrespecting trade unions, workers, agreements, and to stop terrorising and displacing communities.”

While people turned out in numbers to show their support for the mineworkers, Rio Tinto flatly refused to meet with representatives of the network to receive a memorandum of demands.

In the memorandum IndustriALL Global Union demands from Rio Tinto, the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, and the International Council on Mining and Metal to, among other things, stop interfering in the collective bargaining process and to ensure that workers at their operations have a right to refuse unsafe work.

Rio Tinto also needs to commit to engagement with workers and their trade unions, and to minimize precarious work while maximizing permanent, full-time employment at their operations.

“This is a struggle for workers everywhere. The campaign against Rio Tinto is dedicated to strengthening our workers and we will continue the fight”, said Senzeni Zokwana, president of NUM and vice president of IndustriALL.

Tracking the Abbott Wreckers

Vic: Napthine's Iron Fist

QUIETLY, quietly, in the weeks before Christmas last year the Napthine Government in Victoria introduced a Bill to stop our right to freely protest.
The proposed amendments to the Summary Offences Act undo more than a century of consensus that the right to protest, while sometimes inconvenient for governments, is a cornerstone of participatory democracy.

The Victorian Premier’s changes will mean that workers picketing in an industrial dispute or protesters making a statement, can now be “Moved On” by police.

The Victorian union movement is a peaceful movement, which has a strong professional relationship with police.

By extending the “Move On” laws, Premier Denis Napthine is trying to make the police a political instrument, where they will be pressured to take action against issues that frustrate governments.

Right now in Victoria, paramedics are bravely standing up for the safety of the community in their EBA negotiations. Do we really want a situation where our police are forced to confront their friends and colleagues and silence their call for better services?

Draconian penalties

These new laws are supported by draconian penalties like a $720 fine for breaching a move on order. If an activist stands their ground and refuse to move on, they can be subject to a 12-month Exclusion Order. Contravention of an Exclusion Order is punishable by a custodial sentence of up to two years.

To put that in perspective, that sentence is equivalent to breaking out of prison and certain sex crimes. That’s how threatened Denis Napthine feels about Victorians having free speech.

These “move on” laws apply not just to an individual but may apply to groups, like an entire workforce, a union or a community organisation.

The new powers also allow police to pre-emptively exercise their powers if there is a reasonable suspicion that a protest may obstruct of impede people. These powers are designed to silence movements before any action has occurred.

History is strewn with examples of brave activists standing up for their values, often under threat of persecution. And that threat will be made real in Victoria.

We may have expected that in 2014, in Victoria, our right to peaceful assembly and protest was safe. It is not and we must not stand for it.

•  Join the rally on Tuesday, February 18 at Trades Hall

March with us to the Victorian Parliament and let’s tell Premier Napthine that we won’t be silent.

ACTU: Abbott Gunning to Drive Down Wages

05 February, 2014 | Media Release

The Abbott Government has turned its back on Australian workers and sided with big business to drive down wages and conditions in this country, unions said today.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said workers have been misled by Prime Minister Abbott who told voters before the election that he would not attack their penalty rates but has now shamelessly and dramatically changed his tune.

“In one of the most partisan interventions in memory, the Mr Abbott has joined forced with employers to advocate for sweeping changes to our safety net in the government submission to the Fair Work Commission’s review of Modern Awards,” Ms Kearney said.

“In just one week we have seen Mr Abbott attack enterprise bargaining and misrepresent the wages and conditions of SPC workers and now he is attacking the Award safety net that underpins the conditions of all workers.

“This is a government that has done nothing to stand up for Australian jobs and is siding with big business to drive down wages and conditions in this country.

“Workers will not stand by and cop an assault on the wages of our lowest paid workers. They will not accept hourly rates of $2.50 as happens in the United States. We do not want a working poor in our country.

“The Abbott Government is demonstrating that it’s willing to mislead the public, attack the pay packets of those who can least afford it and push for wage decreases across all industries in order to appease its business allies.

“They are basing their attacks on the lie that we have a wages breakout and that productivity is low.

“Penalty rates are paid to those workers who support businesses by working hours others don’t want to work such as Sundays, public holidays and late nights.

“The only interpretation that can be made of the government’s opening submission to the Award review is that once again, it will back big business at the expense of the most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers in our society.

“It is unacceptable for the government to continue scapegoating workers for its own failures to protect jobs and industries, and workers will see this for what it is: a blatant campaign to cut wages and conditions of working Australians.

“This is an extreme Government who is unapologetically gunning for the pay packets of low and average earning Australians.”

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Federal Court Rules on Illegal Bank Fees

In a decision that could affect tens of thousands of customers, the Federal Court on Wednesday found late payment fees charged by the bank were illegal, while four other types of fee were legitimate.

Some 43,500 customers have challenged ANZ in a multimillion-dollar class action alleging certain fees were illegal because they exceeded the cost to the banks of customers overdrawing their accounts or missing repayments.

Justice Michelle Gordon ruled that most of the fees charged by the bank were legitimate, but its late payment fee of up to $35 was ''extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable.''The case against ANZ has broader ramifications because is being used as a template for a 185,000-strong class action against major lenders including the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB and Citi, which proponents say could be worth more than $220 million. It is being billed as the largest class action in Australian history.

The finding paves the way for customers to take action against any company with a late-payment regime, including telecommunications and energy providers.

It also throws out ANZ's six-year statute of limitations, meaning anyone who has ever been charged a late fee by ANZ can potentially now claim those fees back.

''Wherever there are other late payment regimes, they will need to be examined carefully,'' Maurice Blackburn's national head of class actions Andrew Watson said. Mr Watson told customers to wait for the firm to assess the full implications of the decision before coming forward with new claims.

''There will be a significant amount of interest by those consumers in getting that money, which was unlawfully taken from them, back,'' he said. ''For years and years and years, their banks have been charging them these exorbitant fees.'' ''We are now considering the ramifications of the decision.''

Gerard Brody, chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre, said companies charging late fees should examine whether they were at risk of breaking the law.
''Telcos especially should examine this judgment and determine whether their fees are similarly excessive, extravagant and unconscionable,'' he said.
Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said energy companies should also question whether their fees are legal.
''Any business that relies on late payment fees as part of its business model needs to be very worried about this judgment,'' he said.

Both Telstra and Optus charge a flat late-payment fee of $15 on any bill worth $70. AGL and Origin Energy charge a late-payment fee of $14 and $12 respectively.

Telstra said on Wednesday that its late payment fee was ''cost recovery for Telstra as we incur large administration costs when our customers do not pay on time. For example we send reminder notices, text messages and our call centre staff telephone our customers.''

Read more:

UN Report: Rights of the Child and Catholic Church

In an unprecedented report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said Catholic Church officials had imposed a "code of silence" on clerics to prevent them reporting attacks to police, and moved abusers from parish to parish "in an attempt to cover up such crimes".

It said the Holy See must hand over its archives on the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children so culprits, as well as "those who concealed their crimes", can be held accountable.

The Vatican responded quickly, saying the church was committed to "defending and protecting the rights of the child" and promising to give the UN report "thorough examination".

However, it also added the UN was interfering in Catholic moral teachings because the report also criticised its positions on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

The watchdog's exceptionally blunt paper - the UN's broadest critique of the Catholic hierarchy - followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month.

"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," the report said.

It urged the Vatican to "immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes".

At a press conference following the release of the report, the committee's Kirsten Sandberg said the Vatican had "systematically" placed the reputation of the church over the protection of children.

"They are in breach of the Convention [on the Rights of the Child] as up to now, because they haven't done all the things that they should have done," she told reporters.

Shell: No Drilling in Arctic in 2014

Fantastic news: Shell has announced that it will NOT attempt to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The oil giant’s stunning reversal came after a momentous court ruling two weeks ago. The federal court agreed with NRDC and our allies that the Bush Administration had wildly underestimated the risks of spills and other hazards when it opened the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea to oil leasing and exploration in 2008.

Simply put: the entire Arctic leasing program was based on a fiction -- as we have long claimed -- and all the leases, including Shell’s, have now been thrown into limbo.

The court victory and Shell’s retreat are huge steps forward in our campaign to close Alaska’s Polar Bear Seas -- the Beaufort and Chukchi -- to oil development and potential catastrophe.

And we have you to thank! You have stood with us every step of the way, lending your generous financial support to a tough battle against two administrations and Big Oil that has raged in and out of the courtroom for five years. We never gave up because we know just how much is at stake.

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are home to more than half of America’s polar bears. Their populations are already reeling from global warming. The last thing they need is a catastrophic oil spill.

And if Shell’s Arctic venture has proven anything, it’s that this remote and rugged region is no place for drilling. In 2012, Shell’s rig had to flee from a 30-mile-long iceberg. Its emergency response equipment was “crushed like a beer can” during tests. And its drill rig ran aground during relatively routine winter weather.

Other oil giants -- including ConocoPhilips and Statoil, the Norwegian multinational oil company -- have long since canceled or suspended their plans. Shell was the last holdout -- until this latest announcement.

But make no mistake: While Shell has called off this summer’s operations, it is far from ruling out another attempt.

That’s why it’s so crucially important for the Obama Administration to slam the door shut on Arctic drilling by putting it completely off-limits to Big Oil.

This latest federal court decision hands President Obama a golden opportunity to move beyond a failed Bush Administration policy and to safeguard the Arctic for the sake of our spectacular natural heritage and our embattled climate.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Nurses take a stand for universal healthcare

Wednesday 5th February, 2014

by Lee Thomas, Federal Secretary of the ANMF

MEDICARE works for everyone in our community.

It’s as simple as that.  Thirty years after the introduction of Medicare, our healthcare system continues to provide world-class care for all, regardless of background, age, financial resources or where you come from.

Of real concern in the last few weeks is that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to rule out the introduction of a $6 up-front charge to attend your local General Practitioner (GP) even if they already bulk bill.

Make no mistake, an upfront fee will have a huge impact on services and the way those in most in need think about healthcare and how they use it for themselves and their family.

People in our community who can least afford it would eventually be forced to pay for what should be free healthcare.  The introduction of any co-payment will be the beginning of the end for free, universal healthcare in Australia.

Our universal healthcare system is the envy of the world – we should fight very hard to keep it free.

Further burden nurses and ED’s

The introduction of a co-payment by the Abbott Government would simply shift the cost burden to the public health system, because many people would head to the hospital Emergency Department (ED) to get checked for routine or relatively minor ailments rather than paying rising upfront fees to see the local doctor.

This will further burden nurses who are already struggling with dangerously high workloads in overstretched EDs.

Waiting times would just get longer, resources stretched even further and staff in EDs would bear the burden of this Government decision on a daily basis.

WATCH: the very first Medicare advertisement from 1983

And we all know what happens when you introduce a seemingly small fee to save the federal government coffers – small fees get a little bit bigger, perhaps with CPI increases (I mean, what’s a dollar or two increase to us?), but then they get a little bit bigger and then a little bit more.

You only have to look at the result of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) to realise that initially small co-payments can become very large burdens.

Healthcare is already overstretched

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has over 230,000 union members in Australia, in each State and Territory, in public and private hospitals, nursing homes, and GP clinics.

Our members, nurses and midwives and assistants in nursing are the face of healthcare policy in Australia.

We see people in the worst and best of times, when they are sick and the most vulnerable, when they need compassion and understanding.

And that really is the heart and soul of our healthcare system – providing equally for all, decent, quality, healthcare, whether you are rich or poor, regardless of your age and background, we will see you and treat you and care for you.

And we should never, ever want that to change.