Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grocon - A Dispute About Safety

28 April 2014

This morning a service was held in Canberra to commemorate International Workers' Memorial Day.

National Workers Memorial Canberra
Injured workers and families of workers who have died as a result of workplace accidents attended the annual service to pay their respects and lay flowers at the official memorial.

CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor says a worker is seriously injured or dies every six minutes in the construction, mining and forestry industries.

He says last year 19 workers died in the construction industry and 10 in the mining industry.

"One of the most dangerous jobs you can have is as a construction labourer, they are killed at four times the rate of workers in all other jobs," he said.

"Too often, many workers feel they can't speak out, or stand up to their employer - with devastating consequences."

Mr O'Connor hopes the campaign will help others heed the warnings and stand up for their own safety at work.

"To stand up for themselves, to stand up for their workmates, to stand up for the standards that we've fought for over the years," he said.

"In every state, in every territory, in every workplace that we cover, we'll ensure that our members are encouraged to stand up, to speak out so that they can come home."

ACOSS: Abbott Budget Targets "Those Who Can Least Afford It"

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to prevent unnecessary cuts to vital payments for some of the most disadvantaged people on the lowest incomes in the country, as it prepares its first Budget.

“If proposals under discussion were implemented, pensions for people with a disability, carers, sole parents and older people would be much lower in future and people on the lowest incomes could not afford to visit the doctor when they need to,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“In his speech last night the Prime Minister said: 'this Budget won't be for the rich or the poor but for the country'. Yet so far it appears that most of the pain will be borne by people who can least afford it.

“We urge the Government to stand firm in its commitment to target government funding to the people who need it. This is a Budget that should be there for people who are poor, including the almost 600 000 children living in poverty. Government support for people who do not need assistance should be targeted by reducing tax concessions, rebates and supplements which are benefiting people in the higher income brackets in our society. This would be good policy.

“Superannuation tax breaks cost the same as the age pension (around $40 billion a year) and one quarter of their value goes to the top 5% of wage earners. It’s time to put superannuation reform, and the generosity of the pension assets test, on the Budget agenda. The Seniors Supplement and private health insurance rebates for ancillaries are also poorly targeted, and disproportionately benefit higher income households.

“A fairer alternative to cutting the payments and services most needed by people on low incomes is to restore budget revenue. The mooted ‘deficit levy’ could help pay more of the future cost of the NDIS and health care and avoid policies such as $6 GP co-payment that would harm people on low incomes, but it lacks a clear purpose and as it stands it is only temporary. It would be removed in a few years’ time, just when the budget is coming under the greatest pressure.

“Reducing indexation for pensions to inflation only instead of wage movements would inevitably increase poverty as people on the lowest income fall further behind the rest of the community. One of the main reasons Newstart Allowance is only $36 a day now is that it has only been indexed to the CPI for the last 20 years.

“We have long said that the Government should not consider raising the retirement age to 70 in the future until it first deals with the gross inadequacy of allowance payments such as Newstart for those who are unable to work and addresses the discrimination experienced by older people trying to stay or re-enter the workforce. The age at which people can access their superannuation, which is still only 55 years, should first be raised to the same as the pension age (67 years).

“ACOSS has already advocated a tightening of access to family payments to ensure they are targeted to households who really need assistance the most. We have proposed reducing Family Tax Benefits Part B once family incomes exceeds about $100,000. Any changes would need to ensure that single parent families, who have already been targeted under previous governments, aren’t penalised again. ACOSS has proposed replacing FTB Part B for sole parents with a Sole Parent Supplement, paid at a higher rate for parents of older children to reflect the higher costs and demands of caring for children as a sole parent.

“To date, there are no signs of greater investment and support for people who need government to be there, including people locked out of the labour market. Closing the gap between the adequacy of the unemployment payment, and pensions should not be achieved by cutting the adequacy of pensions, but by lifting the adequacy of Newstart. Raising the rate and indexation of Newstart is an urgent and overdue reform, widely supported across business, economists, unions and the community sector.

“Putting more money into compulsory income management is not the priority. It costs  more than half the value of the social security payments which are being ‘managed’ by Centrelink per person, and remains widely unsupported by the sector that has the direct experience of what is needed to support families and individuals to move out of poverty and into economic independence.

“The Prime Minister has said that budget measures will be fair and equitable. To be fair and equitable we need to seriously look at the revenue problem and be brave enough to embark on the structural reform that is required. Ultimately this is the way to restore the Budget coffers and put our national finances on a sustainable path, without resorting to unfair cuts and charges that hurt those at the bottom the most,” Dr Goldie said.

Vic: Charges Laid Against Grocon

Criminal charges have been laid against one of Australia’s biggest building companies following a Melbourne wall collapse which killed three people last year.

Siblings Bridget and Alexander Jones and French researcher Marie-Faith Fiawoo died after the brick wall surrounding a Grocon construction site on Swanston St fell in high winds, crushing the trio as they walked past.

The charges were laid late yesterday against Grocon and a signage company after a lengthy WorkSafe investigation found alleged breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Charge sheets obtained by the Herald-Sun allege it was “reasonably practicable” for Grocon to have ensured the wall and a wooden hoarding attached to it would not endanger people nearby.

It is also alleged Grocon companies failed to seek the necessary permit for the hoarding and did not have an engineer inspect the wall.

The subcontractor hired to erect the advertising hoarding has also been charged.

A WorkSafe spokesman confirmed to The Australian that charges had been laid, but said no further comment would be made as the case was now before the Melbourne Magistrates court.

It is believed the charges, each carrying a possible penalty of over $1 million, may delay a planned coronial inquest, set for June.


Sydney Morning Herald 29 April 2014

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal political donations were used to bankroll the Liberal Party's 2011 state election campaign after being funnelled through slush funds linked to former minister Chris Hartcher and fund-raiser Paul Nicolaou, a corruption inquiry has heard.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into fund-raising and influence-peddling in the NSW Liberal Party, codenamed Operation Spicer, opened on Monday with explosive allegations that Mr Hartcher and fellow central coast Liberal MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber corruptly solicited more than $400,000 in campaign donations in return for political favours. 

Among the donors were Nathan Tinkler's property development group Buildev, the Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings and Gazcorp, the developer behind the controversial Orange Grove shopping centre development in Liverpool. 

Mr Hartcher, who quit cabinet last year after the ICAC raided his central coast electorate office, allegedly laundered some of the cash through a Central Coast law firm, which was "dragged ... unwittingly into an illicit enterprise".

The payments were made to Eightbyfive, a "sham" company set up by Mr Hartcher's former adviser Tim Koelma to disguise the donations as payment for services by providing fake invoices. The bulk of the money came from property developers, who have been banned from donating to political parties in NSW since 2009.

Marie Ficarra, the former parliamentary secretary to Premier Mike Baird, stood aside on Monday and moved to the crossbenches after the inquiry heard allegations she directed prominent developer Tony Merhi to donate $5000 to Eightbyfive.

Her spokesman said she "denies the allegations completely" and would present evidence to show she was innocent and "acted in good faith at all times".
But counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said that both Ms Ficarra and Mr Merhi "knew they were doing the wrong thing". 

Mr Watson suggested that as result of the payments, Mr Hartcher assisted the Gazals to get the Orange Grove shopping centre approved. Mr Roberts, who did not declare the trip on the pecuniary interests register, insisted it was a private trip and he paid his own airfares and costs.

The inquiry heard Mr Hartcher's office used the Liberal Party's chief fund-raising body, the Millennium Forum, and an organisation called the Free Enterprise Foundation to "re-channel" about $165,000 in donations from banned donors.

The foundation was allegedly used by members of the NSW Liberal Party to disguise illegal donations by "washing and re-channelling" payments, and it received $700,000 before the state election.

"Not all of that came from prohibited donors, but a substantial part of it did," Mr Watson said.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Corporate Culture dominates Trade in Services Agreement

The trade union representing Australia’s nurses and midwives is warning that a global trade deal in services may herald a new wave of privatisations in the country’s public hospitals and health services.

The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association has written to the federal trade minister, Andrew Robb, requesting that details of the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) be made public to address concerns from a range of groups that the proposed pact will have a profound effect on the provision of public services.

Negotiations on the Tisa resume in Geneva on Monday and Australia is chairing the talks from then until Friday.

The 23 parties to the agreement are Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union (representing its 28 member states), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

Talks on the agreement began last year, and Australia is moving the deal forward with the US and the EU. The pact is being pursued outside the World Trade Organisation by a group of pro-trade liberalisation countries with the idea that the final text be compatible with the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gat).

Corporate Australia has a substantial economic interest in liberalising the global trade in services. The services sector comprises about 70% of domestic economic activity and 17% of exports, according to analysis by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Tade.

But unions representing public sector workers internationally are preparing to campaign against the agreement.

Public Services International (PSI), the global body for public sector unions, has commissioned a report that attacks the foundations of the proposed pact. That report, released at the Australian embassy in Geneva on Monday, contends that the Tisa is “among the alarming new wave of trade and investment agreements founded on legally binding powers that institutionalise the rights of investors and prohibit government actions in a wide range of areas only incidentally related to trade”.

PSI claims the agreement will prevent governments from returning public services to public hands when privatisations fail, will restrict domestic regulations on worker safety, will limit environmental regulations and will affect consumer protections and regulatory authority in areas such as licensing of healthcare facilities, power plants, waste disposal and university and school accreditation.

The PSI has called on the negotiating parties to release the provisional text, exclude all public services from the agreement and ensure that all countries have the right to regulate in the public interest.

The New South Wales nurses have also written to Robb seeking clarification about Australia’s stance in the discussions. The union’s general secretary, Brett Holmes, claims the Tisa “would make it easier for multinational corporations to profit with impunity”.

“If successful it could open up a wide range of vital public services, such as health care, to be sold off permanently for private profit and never allowed to be returned to public hands,” Holmes said. “Every new health-care service would also have to be privatised under this agreement.”

The comments echo arguments the ACTU has put to the government as part of the public submissions process into the proposed agreement.

Bruce Petty Cartoon

ACTU: Worker’s Memorial Day: stop rolling back life-saving regulations

28 April, 2014 | Media Release

The rate of work injuries and deaths in the workplace will increase - bringing loss and heartbreak to families and communities - should life-saving regulations be rolled back nationally as they have been in Queensland.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said, today, Worker’s Memorial Day, was a sobering reminder of why regulations are so important.

“The rolling back of protections that keep people safe at work will have one sure result, it will put worker’s lives in danger,” Ms Kearney said.

“Regulations are there for a reason, that is to save lives and stop injuries.”

“The Queensland Government recently struck a blow to workplace safety by making it easier for unscrupulous employers to cut corners and avoid detections.

“This is despite Queensland being one of the most dangerous states in Australia to work in.

“Instead of increasing protections that save lives, Queensland employers now get 24 hours notice before a safety inspection and the ‘cease work’ rule for unsafe workplaces no longer applies.

“This is the Queensland Government sending a clear message that it's not serious about safety and that employers who want to save money by cutting corners on safety have got the green light to do so.”

Ms Kearney said, "Workers and unions fear that a domino effect could prevail with other states and territories stripping protections in the name of ‘cutting red tape’."

“There are signs other states are embracing a similar view point that puts employer convenience above the safety of their workforce,” she said.

“The worst scenario for workers, especially those in dangerous industries such as construction and transport and storage, is that regulations set up to protect them while they are at work will be stripped back or abolished.”

Ms Kearney said, “We need more, not less regulation."

"Any Government who is willing to shut their eyes to the traumatic death statistics, to the workplace injury numbers and the impact of these heartbreaking events on communities will have blood on their hands.”

“Worker’s Memorial Day 2014 is not just about remembering those people who went work and never came home, this year it’s also vital to think about those people whose lives will be put in danger due to the removal of life-saving workplace safety laws.”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Corporate Culture: Electricity Price Rises = Money from Poles and Wires

Never has it been more expensive to turn on our appliances. In the last few years, our power bills have doubled, making Australia's electricity prices some of the highest in the developed world.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott blames two things: the carbon tax and the renewable energy target. He says the government's review of the target will look at its impact on bills, because 'renewable energy targets are significantly driving up power prices right now'.

But Mr Abbott's claim that the renewable energy target is expensive is not supported by the data. The Australian Energy Markets Commission says the renewable energy target adds four per cent to the average electricity bill. For an average household, that's about a dollar a week.

'For all of the attention that carbon price has got, from the increasing attention the renewable energy target's got, the main reason that electricity has been getting dearer is the overinvestment in poles and wires, and the fundamental inefficiency in the way that the national electricity market's working,' says Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute.

Federal Treasury estimates that 51 per cent of an average household bill is spent on network costs. Most of that is going towards paying off the $45 billion network companies have spent on updating our poles and wires over the last five years.

This investment was justified by the network companies' own data, which showed that Australia's energy demand was going to increase dramatically. But in 2009, just as they were beginning to spend, something unprecedented happened. Energy demand in Australia didn't go up—it went down. And it's continued to go down every year since.

Despite the clear reality of falling demand, the network companies insisted that demand was rising, and they carried on investing billions of dollars into the grid. Every dollar of that investment is now being recovered from consumers, via our power bills. Every dollar, plus ten per cent—a guaranteed return granted to them by the regulator.

In 2012, three years after the spending began, the Senate held an inquiry into electricity prices. It was chaired by Labor MP, Matt Thistlethwaite.

'What we found was those network businesses—that earned the most profits were the ones that invested the most,' he says. 'So there was a perverse incentive in the system for an overinvestment in the poles and wires, and that led to dramatic profits for those businesses, but of course it was the consumer that paid for that cost of that additional capital.'

Mr Thistlethwaite says that the inquiry was presented with many examples of infrastructure being built where it wasn't needed. 'We discovered a network business that had invested $30 million in a substation in Newcastle, and I actually visited the substation. It wasn't connected to the grid. The reason why it wasn't connected to the grid; when the decision was made a couple of years ago to invest in this particular piece of infrastructure, it was projected that the demand would be there. But the demand didn't eventuate.'

Energy analyst Bruce Mountain from Carbon Market Economics says that although some old infrastructure needed updating, the amount of money wasted on the poles and wires was substantial. 'I would estimate as an aggregate across the national electricity market, perhaps at least a half of that total spend was not actually necessary, but it does vary by state.'

The staggering rise in electricity prices brought on by this investment has had a rather unintended consequence. 'Because the price got so high, it made solar even more competitive from the customer's point of view,' says David Leitch, a utilities analyst with UBS. 'Because when you use the solar in your house, you don't use the wires and poles in the system, so you're eliminating half the final price.'

The fact that households with solar can save more than half on their power bills has made solar panels an economic choice, not just an ethical one. There are now 1.2 million households getting their daytime power from solar panels.

'It's essentially turning households into competitors of the electricity companies, because all of a sudden households are producing electricity, and they're deciding what to do with it,' says Mr Leitch. 'As opposed to just having a choice of take it or leave it from your friendly electricity retailer.'

"Royal Wedding" - A Rebel Song from 1922

The Royal Wedding.

Sing a song of slobber,
—A nation on its knees      
Rapturously worshipping  
It's pigmy royalties;

Happy in the dust do most
Obsequiously squirm,
Glad to be in crawlsome glee
Full brother to the worm.

Sing, a song of manhood,  
Of days that yet shall be,
When man to fellow man no more
Shall bend the supplicant knee.  

When crowns and thrones and sceptres  
On the scrap heap shall be cast,  
And brotherhood, by all acclaimed,
Shall rule the world at last.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Malcolm Fraser US Alliance Warning

With tensions rising in the East China Sea between China and Japan, Mr Fraser said there was a real danger of conflict and that he had become "very uneasy" at the level of Australia's compliance with the US's strategic interests.

"Our armed forces are so closely intertwined with theirs and we really have lost the capacity to make our own strategic decisions," Mr Fraser said.

He said the high level of military integration, including through bases such as Pine Gap, meant Australia would have difficulty convincing the world that it was not taking part in a US-led conflict even if, formally, Canberra tried to stay out of it.

He has also called for a new debate about Australian-American military-to-military ties, warning that the secretive Pine Gap facility would become a military target as it would likely be pivotal to the US capability to identify and neutralise Chinese nuclear weapons sites.

Mr Fraser described the American "pivot" into the western Pacific, announced by Mr Obama in the Australian Parliament in 2011, and which relies heavily on Australia in an operational sense, as another strategic error that commits Australia to a wrong-headed US strategy of containment of China.

"Military encirclement was necessary in relation to the Soviet Union but China is quite a different story," Mr Fraser said.

His answer is to pull back by closing down the US training bases in the Northern Territory and advising Washington that Pine Gap will also be shut down.

In an attack on the Labor-Coalition consensus, Mr Fraser said Australia's military was now so entwined with the giant US war machine that, functionally, the country had ceded decisions about what conflicts we eventually become entangled in.Mr Fraser said the US had a record of embarking on disastrous military adventures, from Vietnam (which he originally supported) to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it was increasingly likely that its next military folly would drag in Australia.

He said a progressive blurring of the lines of sovereign independence could be traced back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which should have been the moment when Australia marked out its own strategic persona.

"That was the time when we should have reassessed our policies and decided that we should exercise greater independence," Mr Fraser said.

"An Australia which was seen to be independent working closely with ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], which is a remarkable diplomatic success story, would contribute more to peace and security in own part of the world than the close surrogate alliance with the United State."

SMH Read more

Hockey: barackining for the greedy

"Robbery Joe" in full rant against pensioners
Veronica Sheen
Research Associate, School of Social Sciences at Monash University

... With large numbers of workers not being able to access a pension until 70, the outcomes will be more reliance on other pensions and benefits. The default for some will be the disability support pension as suggested by both the Grattan Institute and Productivity Commission. This adds adds a layer of an eligibility requirement of “impairment” for income support on to the pension income and assets test. A long-term project of governments is to reduce reliance on this payment and again a new round of review of eligibility is under way.

The later pension eligibility age will mean many older workers in their sixties will be forced on to unemployment payments – the low Newstart allowance at a mere $A250 per week. This will widen older age penury and heighten the risk of homelessness.

The government and the institutions advocating for a later retirement age have largely not engaged with these difficult and complex factors that are relevant to public financing for an ageing population. As such, the logic for raising the pension eligibility age as a solution to the “budget crisis” is deeply flawed and is setting up future governments for other social and economic “crises” down the track. It is a shame that the “mature debate” is over before it even began.

Friday, April 25, 2014

May Day: Rally for Manufacturing

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) is campaigning to save local jobs and will hold a rally in Newcastle which will focus on jobs in the Hunter region.

As the Newcastle Herald reports, the rally will take place at Newcastle No.1 Sportsground on May 1, International Workers’ Day.

The action also involves an online campaign which, in the lead up to the NSW sate election in 2015, urges the government to commit to local jobs. A video on the topic has been produced.

Campaign director George Simon told the Newcastle Herald, ‘‘We want to make sure that every family in Newcastle and the Hunter knows about what’s going on.’’

 ‘‘This will be a sustained campaign in the lead-up to the 2015 election to let the community in the Hunter know where the major parties stand when it comes to jobs and our local economy.’’

As the ABC reports, AMWU State Secretary Tim Ayres claimed the Hunter is facing a jobs crisis

"More than 3,000 jobs are at risk in the Hunter's rail infrastructure sector and 1,000 jobs in shipbuilding, because of inaction of State and Federal Coalition Governments," Mr Ayres said.

As an example, he cited the possibility that Forgacs may be forced to make 900 workers redundant next year if the federal government cannot guarantee future naval work.

57-year-old Wayne Sweetman is one person who will be taking part in the rally. Retrenched from Downer EDI this month after 30 years of work in the transport manufacturing sector, he says governments have to help with job creation.

 ‘‘There’s plenty of work that needs to be done to upgrade rail infrastructure in Sydney alone, but the government refuses to put its hand in its pocket to pay for it,’’ Sweetman told the Newcastle Herald.

Abbott's Costing Dream

Thursday, April 24, 2014

ACOSS: Low income and vulnerable to bear brunt of Budget repair

Thursday April 24, 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today said that those living on low incomes and vulnerable appear likely to bear the brunt of the Federal Government’s effort to steer the Budget back on a sustainable footing, following the Treasurer’s speech in Sydney last night.

“ACOSS agrees we face a significant fiscal challenge but all the signs are that people at the very bottom of the income and wealth scale are to be asked to carry the overwhelming burden of the Budget repair job,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Despite the rhetoric that the Government would prioritise spending for those who need assistance, measures proposed to date will disproportionately target those with the least in our community.

"The proposed 1.75% cap on growth in spending would freeze spending for a decade once growth in the population is taken into account. That means a ten year spending freeze in government benefits and services everyone relies upon, including basic health services, pensions and benefits, community services and schools.

“ACOSS urges the Government to deliver on its promise to target expenditure to people most in need. It should take a balanced approach to balancing the budget, which means that the burden of fiscal restraint should be shared equitably across society according to means.

“However, currently the Government is failing to meet urgent needs, including people on the intolerably low Newstart Allowance payment of $36 a day, and is providing generous assistance to those who don’t need it, such as those on high incomes benefitting from housing and superannuation tax concessions at enormous cost to the budget, and pensions and concessions for retired couples with a million dollars in financial assets.

“We are particularly concerned that focus to date by Government, including through the National Commission of Audit, has been exclusively on direct spending, ignoring the other side of the ledger – tax expenditures and the need to raise revenue.

“Restoring tax revenue to 24% of GDP would raise the equivalent of $30 billion a year in extra public revenue. This would go a long way to restoring the Budget and more could be done by closing tax shelters and loopholes, not by relying on income tax bracket creep alone.

“We welcome the Treasurer’s acknowledgement that the growing cost of superannuation tax concessions is unsustainable. These concessions now cost around the same as the age pension, at around $40 billion a year.

“As the Treasurer Joe Hockey said in his speech, we need structural reform to get our national Budget back in the black in the longer term. This cannot be achieved in a single Budget. And we simply cannot allow it to be achieved through hitting the most vulnerable members of our community. This will only accelerate growing inequality and poverty in Australia and cost us more as a nation in the longer term," Dr Goldie said.

"The majority of savings measures mooted to date have been targeted to social programs and supports, which will disproportionately affect those least able to manage with less – those on low incomes and vulnerable. This is clear when you look at who will pay for the proposals raised so far:

Who will pay?

  • The introduction of a $6 GP co-payment will impact on low income people most and those with chronic illness and is likely to lead to reduced visits to doctors and greater pressure on hospital system;
  • Proposed changes to eligibility for the Disability Support Pension will require more frequent medical assessments and shift many people onto Newstart Allowance which is $166 a week lower, without addressing barriers to work;
  • Increasing the Age Pension eligibility age will force many older people to struggle on the $36 a day Newstart payment for longer;
  • Proposed changes to indexation of pensions to prices instead of wages will cause payments to fall behind community living standards and lead to an increase in poverty amongst older people, people with disability and others relying on pensions;
  • Abolishing Medicare Locals will reduce the access to primary health care services for those on low incomes;
  • Abolishing the low income superannuation contribution will effectively penalise people on low incomes for saving for their retirement;
  • Abolishing the Income Support Bonus Payment would reduce assistance to people on the below poverty line Newstart payment by $4 week;
  • Cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including legal services and peak representative bodies and community legal services will all reduce access to essential services to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community.

Who should pay?

While the Government has signalled a reduction in ‘corporate welfare’, the Government has been reported as refusing to touch expensive tax expenditures or poorly targeted payments, which benefit those who are wealthier, driving greater inequality in Australian society, including:

  • Superannuation tax concession, of which one third go the top 10% of wage earners, now cost the same as the age pension, around $40 billion per year;
  • Housing tax concessions, which also largely benefit those on high incomes and contribute to house price and rent inflation which is locking many low and middle income households out of the market, at a cost of more than $8.3 billion a year;
  • The assets test for eligibility for the part pension, by which people with investment assets of more than $1 million, in addition to the family home, are eligible to receive a part pension – causing rapid growth in uptake of the pension;
  • The Seniors Supplement, which extends to those who are too wealthy to receive a pension;
  • The Private Health Insurance Rebate for ancillary cover; and
  • The tax treatment of private trusts which largely benefit those on high incomes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wages Prices and Profit in 2014

An analysis by Canberra University’s National Institute for Social and Economic Modelling shows that wages rose by only 0.1 per cent in the quarter, one of the slowest rates on record, while living costs rose by 0.7 percentage points.

NATSEM principal research fellow Ben Phillips said the net 0.6 per cent fall in the December quarter meant living standards had now dropped for three of the past five quarters. The only increases, in the middle of last year, were the result of interest rate cuts rather than wage growth.

“We have had growth in our standard of living of around 66 per cent since our last major recession in 1990, so it should not surprise that we’d run out of steam at some point,’’ Mr Phillips said. “That point may well have been reached.”

NATSEM research shows that declining standards of living are a problem not only for future generations but one that confronts the government now. Over the full 2013 year, wage growth exceeded living costs only by 0.6 per cent, which was well below the long-term average growth of 2.6 per cent, which prevailed over both the 11-year stretch of the Howard government and the six years of the Rudd-Gillard government.

During the latter half of the Hawke-Keating governments, living standards rose by an average of 0.9 per cent. Partial data suggests there was a fall in living standards during the early years of the Hawke government when wage increases were deliberately kept below living costs under the government’s “accord” with the union movement.

Mr Phillips said prices for principal exports would not pay for further income growth, while there was no potential for income tax cuts, little scope for interest rate reductions and the jobs ­market was weak.
“It is hard to be bullish on household standards of living in the short term,” he said.

Commonwealth Bank chief economist Michael Blythe said inflation was being pushed ­higher by domestic structural forces that were beyond the Reserve Bank’s influence.

He said a lack of job security was leading to the fall in wages growth. “Wages are running behind CPI inflation with real wages falling,” Mr Blythe said. “Looking into 2014, it is a trend that will probably continue.”

ASU: Stand Up For Sydney Water

Premier Mike Baird has been warned against further privatisation of water and sewerage services in response to corruption allegations that Australian Water Holdings exploited taxpayers' money under a government contract.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) state secretary Sally McManus has urged the state government to put off any plans to issue contracts for the delivery of water services to more than 100,000 new homes to be built in south-west Sydney.

She said a contract already awarded to Australian Water Holdings to provide water and sewerage for new developments in Sydney's north-west should be cancelled and reclaimed by Sydney Water to ensure quality and value for money to NSW taxpayers.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard Australian Water Holdings charged exorbitant executive salaries, political donations, a corporate box and limousines to public-owned Sydney Water, despite the expenses having nothing to do with the water and sewerage services the company was contracted to provide.

Ms McManus said the ICAC inquiry had demonstrated the outsourcing model for water services was flawed and open to exploitation. ''Is the government going to go on this folly again with private companies or are they going to make sure the people of south-west Sydney are looked after and the rest of us aren't ripped off,'' Ms McManus said.

She called on both sides of politics to rule out any further contracts of the kind AWH secured and to review its contract for water services in north-west Sydney.
''Australian Water Holdings have fleeced the public. They were massively over-charging to wine and dine politicians and to buy political influence,'' she said.

''Sydney Water and the government should take the necessary steps to get that contract cancelled and take that infrastructure over again.

''The development of Sydney's fringes provides a major infrastructure challenge that businesses are only too willing to exploit.''

Ms McManus said that managed in the public interest the project and revenue could benefit the government through higher dividends which it could use to develop public infrastructure and services.

The ICAC has been told that AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo was earning more than $1 million and billed Sydney Water for expenses including a trip to a Cairns resort for him and Eddie Obeid jnr, who was also employed by the company.

Among the salaries potentially billed to Sydney Water was $200,000 a year for former assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos, for which the ICAC alleges he did between 25 and 45 hours' work.
The inquiry is investigating allegations the family of disgraced former Labor MP Eddie Obeid had a secret shareholding in AWH and lobbied the government on the company's behalf.

Barry O'Farrell was forced to resign as NSW premier last week after giving misleading evidence to the ICAC hearings about the gift of a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange from Mr Di Girolamo after the 2011 election.

SMH - Read more

Campaign for Jobs: Penrith Valley Community Unions

The launch of the Penrith Valley Community Unions 2014 Campaign for Jobs, Rights & Services

Wednesday 30th April
Penrith RSL Club from 6pm. 

Come along and join us as Mark Lennon, General Secretary of Unions NSW launches the campaign
and hear all the latest news affecting PSA members in the Penrith/lower Blue Mountains region from
Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary of the Public Service Association of NSW.

Mary Court
PVCU Secretary

For catering purposes, please RSVP marycourt@bigpond.com before 24/4/14

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Qld: Celebrating Labour Day - Standing for Queensland

On Labour Day, hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders will celebrate the achievements of the union movement and use the day to signify resistance to the breakdown of democracy in Queensland.

They will celebrate the eight-hour day, workplace health and safety, equal pay for women and the basic commitment to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

But under the Newman Government, it has taken just two years to undermine generations of social and workplace progress and take the state backwards.

Forum: A Country Too Far - 30 April 2014

Thomas Keneally, and UTS academics,
Creative Writing Lecturer Dr Rosie Scott
and Associate Professor Debra Adelaide
The forum will be chaired by Associate Professor Nina
Burridge, Director of Cosmopolitan Civil Societies
Research Centre.

An anthology of stories, memoirs and poetry from some of Australia's leading writers on what has become one of the moral challenges of our time - seeking asylum in Australia.

Free entry. All welcome.

.... Bertold Brecht's poem In Dark Times concludes that the most important Question, looking back on history's dark moments, will be: "Why were their poets silent?".

A Country Too Far represents the varied and vibrant voice of writers speaking out as Australia contravenes its obligations to refugees. Its stories, poems, memoirs and essays collect their work into an eloquent refusal of silence in the face of, as John Tranter writes:
"this/ fetch of disparate peoples/ assigned to come possessionless into massive/ light". Felicity
Plunkett, The Australian, 30th November

Monday, April 21, 2014

Neville Wran the Reformer: 11 October 1926 – 20 April 2014

Neville Wran with Bob Hawke
The Wran Legacy

Joins Australian Labor Party.

Becomes a Queen's Counsel.

Appointed to NSW Legislative Council.

Wins Bass Hill seat in NSW Legislative Assembly.

Leads Labor to minority government in NSW.
Marries Jill Hickson.

Supports the federal government in allowing mafia figure Domenico Barbaro back into Australia after he had been deported over his criminal record.
Establishes the Heritage Council as part of his environmental reforms.

Re-elected with Labor winning 63 of 99 lower house seats.
The NSW upper house is reformed to become entirely elected by the public.

Coastal zones created which protect large parts of NSW coasts from being developed
First NSW Lotto tickets go on sale after drive from government

Transport inquiry commissioned by the Wran government recommends making better use of public land at Darling Harbour. Wran acts on the recommendations eventually developing Darling Harbour as the pedestrian and tourist precinct it is today.
Land and environment court created.

Re-elected with 69 of 99 seats.
Criminalises marital rape.
Establishes the Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs, headed by Pat O'Shane, which helps develop the Aboriginal Land Rights Council of 1983.

Cabinet support to ban logging in 90,000 hectares of rainforest in national parks.
Proposed phasing out of leaded petrol.

Steps down as premier for three months as he is investigated by a royal commission over allegations aired by ABC’s Four Corners he tried to influence the judge in the case of NSW Rugby League chief Kevin Humphreys, who was accused of misappropriating funds from the Balmain Leagues Club.
Develops Aboriginal Land Rights Council.

Decriminalises homosexuality.
Re-elected with 58 of the 99 seats.
Powerhouse Museum and Wharf Theatre built, restoration of Parliament House, the Mint and Hyde Park Barracks.

In a decade an extra 3.3m hectares of land have been protected under conservation laws.
Resigns the premiership and his seat at the ALP state conference.

Founding member of Australian Republican Movement.
At one point Wran’s popularity hit an unprecedented 80% in polling.

He used that mandate for reform, tackling a moribund public service and opening it up for women and Aboriginal people, in part by replacing the seniority system with merit. He also shifted the focus to “customers” and “consumers” in line with modern economic theory and appointed a woman as the first director of equal opportunity and employment.

Wran created the Anti-discrimination Board, Ethnic Affairs Commission, Women’s Advisory Council and a minister for Aboriginal Affairs, as well as tackling land rights. However, his government’s ambitious bill to outlaw discrimination was watered down to cover just race, sex and marital status, abandoning age, religion, disability and sexual orientation at the time.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saving the Mitchell Library

Even the State Librarian, Alex Byrne, was unprepared for the fierce love that drove almost 10,000 people to sign a petition protesting against changes to the historic Mitchell Library.

Launched in February by a group including author David Malouf, the petition drew support from expats including Peter Carey, Nick Cave and James Wolfensohn, international authors such as Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood, and many local library users.

Dr Byrne announced on Wednesday that after listening to the opposition he had reversed the plans to remove researchers and books from the 1910 Mitchell Reading Room.

Writer David Malouf petitions fiercely over the Mitchell Library changes. Photo: Wolter Peeters
"We have been listening to the contrary arguments since November and we have come up with an alternative plan that addresses everything that has been expressed," he said.

"It's clear that people love the library overall and love the Mitchell building and, within that, love the Mitchell Reading Room."Mr Malouf said, "Everybody is a winner here. I was impressed by the really imaginative and elegant solution that allows us all to go back to supporting fully a great institution."

Rather than moving researchers to a separate room, the new plan almost triples their space at the back of the Reading Room to seat about 40 people behind a glass wall, which will create a quieter, more secure environment.

"The use of the special collections - manuscripts, artworks, maps and so on - and Mitchell collection books will continue in the grand Reading Room, where it is at the moment," Dr Byrne said.
Books and card catalogues that were moved to the Macquarie wing will return, while the rest of the room will remain for the general public with their own laptops and reading matter.

Researchers can also request delivery of other books to the Reading Room via the new $1.2 million online catalogue, instead of going to the Macquarie wing.

Discontent built after Dr Byrne launched a $25 million fundraising campaign in December to "revitalise" the Mitchell, opening more heritage rooms to the public, restoring the Reading Room to its pre-1988 public role, and adding a rooftop restaurant.Malouf and writers Evelyn Juers, Geordie Williamson and Sally McInerney created the petition and demanded a public meeting that was refused.

Mr Malouf said: "The library was in danger of losing a lot of its formal friends and a lot of potential donors and people who would think again about leaving things to the library."

Ceridwen Dovey, a young Sydney writer, expressed the widespread feeling in her petition comment: "The Mitchell Reading Room is a national treasure, and what makes it such a special, inspiring place to work, research and write is that it is filled with real books.
"The sense of history and place is palpable. It is a rare place - in this modern, hyper-networked world we live in - for quiet, profound, uninterrupted thought. Please don't change it!"

Mr Malouf said rethinking the plans was "a really brave move" and would inspire other people in Australia and overseas to find creative ways to save their libraries.

SMH Read more

ALP candidate named for next state election April 16, 2014

Tanya Plibersek with ALP-endorsed candidate for the Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, with Trish's sons Patrick and Tom.

Trish Doyle will be the ALP candidate in the next state election, after nominations closed last Friday.

Ms Doyle, who stood for the party in the last election, was the only nomination.

“I am proud to be endorsed as Labor’s candidate and I look forward to the March 2015 state election,” she said.

“I am a local school teacher, P&C president, proud mum of two fantastic boys and an active union member.

”The strong support and encouragement I have received from the community inspired me to put my name forward to contest the upcoming election for Labor.

“I have been Labor’s spokesperson in the Blue Mountains since 2011. Throughout this time, I have been highlighting the inadequacy of the O’Farrell government and in particular the inept ‘representation’ from the sitting MP.

“If elected, I will be a vocal advocate for the Blue Mountains in NSW Parliament because our community needs a strong voice in Macquarie Street, not a Macquarie Street mouthpiece in the Mountains.”

Ms Doyle said she wanted to work with the community to protect the unique world heritage environment of the Mountains, to improve public transport options, fight for a well-resourced TAFE and public education system and insist on safe and accessible health care services and supports our tireless health care workers.

She also wanted to support families, schools, small businesses and tourism in the aftermath of the October bushfires.

Ms Doyle was congratulated by the deputy opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, at the Doc Evatt memorial dinner in Katoomba on Saturday.

The two have known each other since university when they were both women’s officers — Ms Plibersek at UTS and Ms Doyle at Macquarie.

“Tanya — her ideals and action around social justice issues — has always inspired me,” Ms Doyle said.

“She has been a motivating force for my venture into politics and has been a huge support to my boys and I during some very difficult times in our lives.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ACTU: Trade deals can’t be at expense of Australian jobs

15 April, 2014 | Media Release

Australian Unions today said that trade deals can’t be negotiated at the expense of Australian workers and local jobs following reports that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is facing demands from China that it be allowed to bring in workers for projects funded by Chinese investors.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said that Unions don’t support the removal of labour market testing requirements that enable temporary overseas workers to build and operate projects in Australia, at the expense of local workers.

“Australian Unions don’t support trade agreements that are negotiated at the expense of local workers,” Mr Oliver said.

“We support trade and foreign investment that pays a dividend to Australians and our economy but we don’t support an ‘at any cost’ approach.

“Removing labour market testing requirements and allowing the use of exploitative visa classes like the 457 is a quick fix for the trade deal and a bad outcome for workers.

“We’re letting large global corporations own and run the mines, soon we won’t be taxing their super profits and under this scenario, there won’t be any local jobs there either.

“Mr Abbott and his Government need to be upfront about what’s actually on the table and what the implications are for local workers and industries.

“With youth unemployment at its highest level in 10 years, Government plans to cut tens of thousands of jobs from the public service. This is Government that has presided over the collapse of the local auto manufacturing industry and is happy to see local aviation jobs go offshore but what Australia needs right now is a Government with a plan for jobs.”

Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb have been breathlessly declaring that more trade means more jobs but have failed to explain how.

“If Mr Abbott has really negotiated trade deals that create Australian jobs then they must front up with the figures and modelling that guarantees the outcome – so far we haven’t seen anything.

“Instead what we have seen are deals and negotiations that actually put Australian jobs and industries at risk.

“The deal with Japan saw the Australian Government make concessions far greater than other nations at the expense of our own industries.

“The Government hasn’t come clean on whether or not a deal has been done with Japan to purchase ‘off the shelf’ submarines at the expense of thousands of Australian jobs and industry.

“And now we’re seeing him export Australian jobs and consider importing foreign labour.

“Every other Government in the world recognises the value of investing in local industries to support local economies and to create jobs.

“Unfortunately for Australians the Abbott Government’s policies and priorities are all pursued at the expense of Australian workers.

“Tony Abbott promised one million new jobs, we didn’t realise these jobs would be for foreign workers.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Public Universities Need Our Help

The Abbott government is considering drastic funding changes that will hurt universities and students.

This weekend, a review commissioned by Education Minister Christopher Pyne called for:
  • Private, for-profit institutions having the same access to government funding as public universities
  • Increasing student fees to pay for new private subsidies
  • Scrapping targets aimed at getting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into uni.
  • These changes would hurt universities that are already facing uncertainty and budget stress. The Abbott government is already proposing to rip $6.4 billion out of universities over the next four years.
The Greens will fight attempts privatise our university system.

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne must rule out redirecting public funds to private, for-profit institutions.

We will oppose restricting access to university for disadvantaged students. The government must reject calls to increase fees and scrap participation targets.

We’ve already seen the devastating impact that unfair competition from private providers is having on TAFE. Thousands of TAFE teachers have lost their jobs, student fees have skyrocketed and TAFE campuses have been forced into mergers.

Send a message to the Abbott government. Sign Petition to Join Campaign

NBN: Turnbull all bull!

With the Abbott Government not only breaking repeated election promises around the National Broadband Network (NBN) - but also this week engaging in unconscionable hypocrisy about its planned expenditure of $41 billion without appropriate oversight - it's important that even the most jaded political observer take note.

The hypocrisy revolves around Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's decision to issue a new Statement of Expectations (SoE) to NBN Co, the company charged with rolling out the next-generation broadband network.

In doing so, Turnbull has completely changed the architectural and strategic direction of the NBN - without waiting for the results of the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that he commissioned in December, putatively to guide his decision about the best path forward for the project.

NBN Co under Labor suffered near continuous browbeating by Turnbull during his nearly three years in opposition, with him repeatedly questioning the credentials of its management and questioning at every opportunity Labor's decision to begin the project without conducting an extensive cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

In October 2009, Turnbull called Labor's NBN a "no cost-benefit analysis, no financial analysis required, $43 billion National Broadband Network thought bubble". A year later, he argued in an SMH editorial that a CBA was "essential" to ensure that any future NBN would deliver adequate returns to justify the expenditure of what was then $43 billion for Labor's fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) model.

ACOSS: Community Services Face Funding Crisis

April 15, 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to make funding certain for vital community organisations, in the wake of an alarming survey revealing almost nine in ten organisations (87%) have no guarantee of key funding for services beyond June 2014.

The survey run by ACOSS in conjunction with the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and NetBalance and distributed through Pro Bono Australia - shows that Australia's Not for Profit sector is in crisis with the lack of funding certainty forcing agencies to lay off staff and unable to fill vacancies.

"The results are indeed disturbing with only 13 per cent of organisations reporting that they have settled funding arrangements, which is impacting on their ability to keep staff and stretching services, providing vital support to the most vulnerable members of our community," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

"It’s simply not good enough that within months of contracts expiring and funding drying up that so many groups remain in the dark about the viability of their service and the continuation of important community programs.

"The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can't establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

"It's time the Government put an end to all this uncertainty and immediately signal its ongoing commitment to funding these crucial services. Services that ACOSS is aware of that are facing this uncertainty include, employment services to unemployed young people, financial counselling for low income people in financial stress, and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, among others.

"Just like business, the not-for-profit sector needs the certainty of funding to drive confidence, leading to longer term planning, investments in people and operational assets to foster productivity and growth.

"In contrast the lack of confidence leads to short term planning and potential inefficiencies as uncertainty creates churn in the workforce and a lack of investment leading to low productivity and stagnation and decline. Sadly this is the current situation, and is happening at the same time that more people will need these services due to the economic down turn. It can only exacerbate the national economic picture at a time when we are trying to lift our economic fortunes.

"Australia's 600,000 not-for-profit organisations play an enormous role in society, not only in supporting some of most disadvantaged people in our community, but also as a large and growing employer (6.8% in 1999-2000 to 8.5% in 2006-07). Our sector contributes more than $40 billion annually to gross domestic product and shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued," said Dr Goldie.

CFMEU: Youth unemployment rises as apprenticeships decline.

Recent figures from the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research (NCVER), show a 14.2% decrease in the take up rates of apprenticeships from the previous year.

The numbers pertaining to construction are even more alarming as a recent environmental scan conducted by the Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council (CPSISC) report completions of apprenticeships in that sector are down by 18%.

CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said that these were very worrying trends and that the Federal Government needed to prioritise the boosting of apprenticeships as a matter of urgency.

“These figures show a crisis. A decrease of almost one fifth of apprenticeships in our industry means the country is facing a serious skills shortage. There simply won’t be enough people to build our homes, our schools, our much needed infrastructure.

“Large numbers of young people are shut out of skilled jobs while unemployment is rising and the government is doing nothing to redress the issues that hamper young people from entering and completing apprenticeships,” said Mr Noonan.

Mr Noonan pointed to privatisation, the failure of large construction companies to directly employ and the subsequent growth in small subcontractors and the growth in sham contracting as being largely responsible for the decline in numbers.

“Young people wanting a career in construction are left with no way in and in many cases, struggle to complete their training,” he said.

Mr Noonan said that the government’s solution to skills shortages seemed to focus on bringing in overseas workers.

“Apprenticeships that could be taken up by young people are lost to the raft of 457 visa holders who are being exploited for cheap labour.”

Mr Noonan referred to ABS data that shows that youth unemployment has tripled since the GFC and said the Federal Government had a responsibility to ensure that young people were equipped with skilled jobs.

“Mr Abbott cannot continue to outsource his responsibilities and provide band aid solutions to serious structural problems that actually hinder young workers from accessing apprenticeships.”

Abbott and the meaning of the word NO!

And just what is it that you don't understand by the word NO, Mr Abbott ???

Abbott’s election promise on the Age Pension

  • ABBOTT: No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.
  • (Tony Abbott – SBS Interview – 6 September 2013)
  •  ABBOTT: I can assure your listeners that there will be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no change to the GST
  • (Tony Abbott – 5 September – ABC AM)
  •  ABBOTT: There are no cuts to health. No cuts to education. Pensions don’t change. The GST doesn’t change.
  • (Tony Abbott – Speech to the National Press Club – 2 September 2013)

Mr Hockey’s latest attack on seniors has been heavily criticised by seniors and the Labor Party, with opposition spokeswoman for families Jenny Macklin saying the legislated rise to 67 had not even begun yet.

The government would also need to account for serious age discrimination in the workplace before lifting the retirement age to 70, she said.

Jill Hall, federal Labor member for Shortland, where most of her constituents are seniors, says it appeared Prime Minister Tony Abbott was reneging on a pre-election promise that there would be no cuts or changes to pensions.

‘‘It might be all right for someone in an office job but when you’re doing manual work your body gives out,’’  she added.

Cory Wright from the Australian Manufacturing and Workers Union said the proposal wouldn’t be fair to those on average incomes.

‘‘It’s already hard enough for a person on an average wage to reach retirement age and have any benefits from their super,’’ the Cardiff-based state organiser said.

A leading economics consultant believed poor and disadvantaged Australians should be quarantined from spending cuts, despite Mr Hockey insisting everyone needs to  do some ‘‘heavy lifting’’ as he restores order to the budget.

Newcastle Herald Survey 15 April 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The war on unions is on – it's time to fight back

Tim Lyons
theguardian.com, 10 April 2014

The rants of trade unions' enemies don’t bear any resemblance to my experience as a unionist. My memories of nearly 20 years as a union official are about people ...

What we do as union officials, and delegates do as volunteers in workplaces, is the sometimes slow and often not very sexy work of helping workers get heard and get some power over their work, and therefore over their lives. It’s about supporting workers like these who are paid award minimum wages and have been told that they are stuck there because their employer has explicitly adopted a low-wage business model.

Our work is about people’s individual and collective right to dignity and fair treatment at work. It’s about decent wages and conditions, employment security and safety. And it’s about issues like patient care, and quality public services, and public safety, and rights at work for every Australian, union member or not.

This is important work. It’s good for working people, and it’s good for our community. Not that you hear much about it. Instead, we’re depicted as some sort of racket.

I’ve spoken regularly about my contempt for any crooks in the union movement, and am happy to put my personal record as an advocate for governance and accountability up against anybody’s. But the Royal Commission into unions needs to be called for what it is: the legal machinery to go with a general campaign to delegitimise unionism.

Nobody believes that the Abbott government wants to see bigger, stronger, more effective, better run unions as the outcome of that campaign. The government clearly wants the royal commission to function as a general trial of the fundamental validity of trade unionism, to both dirty us up and distract us along the way. Soon the government will start a productivity commission review of the industrial relations system, as a prelude to policy change. What better way to start a long-run campaign to reduce rights at work than to silence or discredit your only likely source of serious opposition?

The royal commissioner seems acutely aware he is operating in a hyper-partisan political context. Yesterday, in his opening remarks, he felt it necessary to make the extraordinary disclaimer that “the terms of reference do not assume it is desirable to abolish trade unions”. The Commissioner in the HIH Royal Commission, for example, did not feel the need to announce that his brief did not assume that insurance companies should be abolished. Such a comment would have seemed absurd in that context, but was deemed necessary here.

That he did feel it was necessary says a lot.

Of course if we did abolish trade unions, Australia would be a different place. A more unfair and a more unequal place, and one where most people would enjoy a lower standard of living. Because of what unions wouldn’t be doing anymore.

IndustriALL: Towards Sustainable, Social and Safe Energy Policies

Energy Unions lay out roadmap  “Towards Sustainable, Social and Safe Energy Policies”

Attending IndustriALL Global Union’s World Conference for the Energy Industries, some 250 union leaders from 45 countries adopted an ambitious and vibrant plan of action for the next four years reinforcing unity and fighting back against similar anti-worker tactics throughout the world.

Hosted by IndustriALL’s two affiliates FITAG-UGT and Industria-CC.OO., the Conference made an extensive debate over the five strategic goals of the global union which were endorsed by the Executive Committee. Delegates reported similar stories from all five continents of trade unionists in the industry being undermined by precarious work, aggressive liberalization, unsafe work and union busting.

“Unions in the industry are fighting back”, IndustriALL General Secretary Raina told delegates in his opening address. “Every day is a campaigning day for IndustriALL Global Union”.

Spain’s Secretary of State for Energy Alberto Nadal addressed the conference in its opening session, giving importance to developed industrial relations with IndustriALL’s Spanish affiliates. The country’s highest energy official told delegates: “Energy should be a universal right for all. Without cheap energy, there is not development, and without secure energy, no economic growth. Energy is the base of all economies”.

The conference sought to analyse and develop progressive energy policies that fully take into account the interests of workers faced with rapid change in national energy policies and structures, and ensure change is managed through a process of “Just Transition.” The energy industry plays a key role in IndustriALL’s worldwide initiative of “Sustainable Industrial Policy”, particularly with its close connection with manufacturing sectors as well as sustainability matters.

In addition to the action plan, the Conference unanimously passed five emergency resolutions, issuing urgent solidarity and support for UWUA members under attack in the US by FirstEnergy; in Iraq where an inspirational trade union leader has received death threats against her family; in Indonesia where Pertamina management is acting with impunity and ignoring a court ruling to punish workers for organizing; in Australia where oil giant Chevron is union busting the MUA; and extending solidarity to the Mexican union of electricity workers.

The delegates also applauded IndustriALL’s close cooperation in the energy sector with other sister global unions, PSI and ITF, to advance alliances in the supply chain.

New co-chairs of the sector were elected by delegates in line with the new policy of IndustriALL whereby each industrial sector will be jointly chaired by one woman and one man. The new co-chairs of the energy sector are Apsorn Krissanasmit of Thailand and Leif Sande of Norway.

The Conference also formed an Action Group to handle the day-to-day work of the sector. The make up of the group again reflects the regional, sub-sectorial and gender balance in the industry: Gwenne Farrell of Canada, Linda McCulloch of Workers’ Uniting, Jean-François Renucci of France, Lev Mironov of Russia, Kaoru Kishimoto of Japan, Pablo Emilio Santos Nieto of Colombia, Jorge Fierro Andrade of Chile, Abdelmajid Matoual of Morocco, Aly Al-Adwani of Kuwait, Ady Lombume of Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mfanawelisontfo Dlamini of Swaziland.

Concluding the Conference, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan stated: “The very high quality discussions, energy, enthusiasm of energy industry comrades from five continents will make IndustriALL a genuine global trade union power in this centrally important industry.”

Friday, April 11, 2014


Tony Abbott’s new Royal Commission into unions is following a script that will be very familiar to anyone who paid attention to the Cole Royal Commission a dozen years ago. And once again, it looks like dodgy employers will be let off the hook, writes JIM MARR, author of First The Verdict.

SUSPECT employers who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Liberal Party coffers won’t be called to account by Tony Abbott’s corruption Royal Commission.

The Prime Minister’s terms of reference, released in February, make it clear that Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon will not be asked to examine businesses that have left workers and small businesses high and dry after tipping six figure sums into Liberal Party accounts.

This will be a relief to operators of Queensland-based Walton Construction who paid $430,000, as “rent”, to an LNP-linked trust before leaving sub-contractors millions of dollars out of pocket when it collapsed, last year.

And to those behind Steve Nolan Constructions which, Australian Electoral Commission records show, tipped at least $200,000 into NSW and federal LNP accounts in the two years before it went belly-up, owing workers and contractors more than $30 million.

As Abbott announced his latest taxpayer-funded Royal Commission, hundreds of former Steve Nolan employees picketed two Sydney sites in a bid to retrieve some of their money.

Other employers Abbott appears to have deliberately written out of his Royal Commission script include Leighton Holdings, mired in allegations of bribery and corruption on a grand scale, and Australian Water Holdings (AWH) the outfit accused of fleecing a publicly-owned utility while delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars into Liberal Party accounts.

AWH, of course, was also the company that paid Cabinet Minister and leading Liberal Party fundraiser Arthur Sinodinis a cool $200,000 for less than 50 hours’ work.

Terms of reference explicitly target unions
In an interview with ABC Radio, Abbott insisted the Royal Commission, that opens in Sydney this week, would be a fair dinkum investigation of organisational corruption and that unions would not be unfairly targeted.

“This isn’t declaring war on anyone, it’s declaring war on wrongdoing,” the Prime Minister said. “It’s declaring that there are certain standards in our society and whether you’re a company official or a union official, you’ve got to obey the law.”

Speaking the same day, Attorney General George Brandis said any suggestion of corruption in the business community would be investigated by the royal commission.

These claims are hard to square with the fact that the government has named the inquiry the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and Governance, and written terms of reference that order the investigation of five specific entities – The Australian Workers’ Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, the Transport Workers’ Union and the Health Services Union.

There is simply no mention of businesses alleged to have gouged taxpayers or ripped off workers while topping up Liberal Party funds.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blacktown Child Care Win

Blacktown Council will remain in the child care industry for at least another year.

Last night, councillors voted to establish an executive leadership team to address the performance and operations of its centres.

The team will present a report to the council in June 2015 outlining what it had achieved in the past year, including a recommendation on the future child care structure.

Independent Russ Dickens proposed an amendment for two community representatives to be on the committee with four councillors, the general manager and relevant council members.

It was eventually supported after almost an hour of debate and bickering over petty matters.

Almost 100 parents and employees met on the Village Green prior to the council meeting to campaign for community representation.

‘‘What do we want? A voice. When do we want it? Now,’’ they chanted.

Corporate Culture: Free Trade and 21st Century Bondage

The Australian government is currently participating in trade negotiations led by the US and involving
12 countries in the Pacific. Called the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement,’ the scope of the deal
goes beyond what many of us understand as a ‘free trade’ agreement, and could threaten the ability
of our governments to regulate in the interests of the public and the environment.

The United States wishes to include a proposal which would allow foreign companies to sue
governments for damages if they adopt laws or policies that could ‘harm’ their investment, even if
the laws or policies are in the public interest. The proposal, called ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement,’
or ISDS, would essentially give foreign corporations power to  sue governments over  laws affecting
essential areas of public interest at local, state and national level.

If approved, ISDS would reduce the ability of governments to regulate the activities of foreign
companies even if the companies’ activities have a negative impact on health and the environment.
This would prevent governments from responding to community concerns and introducing
legislation in the interests of the public.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, involving the US, Canada and Mexico, does include ISDS. There have been over 60 cases of governments being sued, many because they implemented legislation to protect public health or the environment.

Currently, the US Lone Pine energy company is suing the provincial government of Quebec for $250 million because it suspended shale gas mining pending an environmental study. The Quebec government acted in response to pressure from the community to examine health and environmental impacts.

In a similar way, farmers and members of communities in NSW and Victoria influenced their state governments to also adopt moratoriums to examine the impact of coal seam gas mining on land use and the environment. Following an independent study in NSW, a number of new regulations were adopted restricting coal seam gas activity close to residential suburbs and rural industries.

Corporations have claimed they will lose billions because of these new rules. If Australia was subject to ISDS rules, foreign companies could sue state governments for damages over this regulation.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

MUA Urges Caution on Shipping Laws

The Maritime Union of Australia has urged the Abbott Government to protect Australian jobs, the maritime skills base and the environment when considering changes to laws covering coastal shipping in Australia.

Paddy Crumlin MUA National Secretary
Transport Minister Warren Truss has released the Regulation of Coastal Shipping Options Paper, which lays out options it says will support Australian shipping.

The MUA agrees with the Government when it says: “a viable, vibrant shipping industry is essential to our national prosperity and it is critical that our transport links are working at optimal capacity and efficiently.”

However, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said it was important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater and give the laws passed in 2012 the time to work, rather than repeal the Coastal Trading Act.

"Australia is the fourth largest user of ships in the world. Our thousands of acres of Ports, too numerous to count, provide fundamental economic trade inside Australia and with our overseas trading partners,” Mr Crumlin said.

"Shipping and Australian commodity production are bookend brothers. It would be policy negligence to dismantle the important ground-breaking reforms agreed after six years of exhaustive consultation between shippers, shipowners, port managers and unions both state and federal.

"Australian shipping must enjoy bi-partisan political support. We must not do anything to undermine the essential skills that drive an industry that adds value to the national economy and would again open us up as an international point of ridicule.

“Changing the Act would be the policy equivalent of getting a plumber to fit a new toilet but saving money on not installing the waste pipe. We'd be up to our neck in crap at some point in our economic and national security future.

"I urge the Abbott Government to keep installing the pipes that last Government has already purchased on behalf of good economic and sustainable management. They will have not only great support but will demonstrate a maturity that is a prerequisite of good governance."

Mr Crumlin said that over the life of the Howard Government, the number of Australian-flagged vessels plummeted from 55 to 21 and that the 2012 changes were desperately needed.

"The 2012 changes to the Coastal Trading Act were the biggest maritime reform since the passing of the Navigation Act 100 years ago," Mr Crumlin said.

"They have the potential to create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and build the national interest through an industry that has always been and always will be critical to the quality of Australia’s economy, environment and way of life.

"The industry employs thousands of Australians and cannot be allowed to fail."

The changes brought in included a zero company tax rate to shipowners as an incentive to flag their vessels with the Australian flag and an overhaul of the system for issuing permits to foreign ships.

"What Australia has done is show the way in international shipping by showing that it doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom," Mr Crumlin said.

"Over the previous decade, we had seen FOC ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews, take over our ports and displace Australian vessels.

“The changes have meant that shipowners on the Australian coast have been able to effectively compete in the domestic freight market with FOC ships.

Mr Crumlin also said a revitalised Australian shipping industry will enable us to protect our environment from the risks posed by FOC ships, like the ones that have damaged our Great Barrier Reef.

"No Australian ship has ever run into the barrier reef; no Australian ship has been involved in an environmental disaster,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The only ships to have run aground on our precious reefs have been foreign vessels.”