Saturday, February 28, 2015

ILO: Right to strike fundamental to democracy

Global union and employer representatives have reached a breakthrough at the ILO following an agreement that the right to strike is fundamental.

The agreement, which came during a special ILO meeting in Geneva, ends a two year impasse over the recognition of the right to take industrial action and comes on the back of a hugely successful global union mobilisation on 18 February. Workers took to the streets during more than 100 actions in over 60 countries worldwide.

UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings said, “Our standpoint has always been clear – removing the right to strike is removing democracy itself.

“This agreement is the culmination of two years of hard work by the labour movement, spearheaded by the ITUC, and we’re delighted that the ILO is now able to return to business as usual.”

Attempts by employers’ groups at the ILO to challenge more than 60 years of case law of the ILO supervisory system, and deny an international right to strike, precipitated a crisis in 2012.

The failure to resolve the dispute and the lack of support from enough governments to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice, left workers without the protection of a functioning ILO system.

Christy Hoffman represented UNI at the ILO meeting, which also included labour leaders from across the world. Social dialogue has proved its worth, and the Government Group recognized in their statement:

"...that the right to strike is linked to freedom of association which is a fundamental principle and right at work of the ILO. The Government Group specifically recognizes that without protecting a right to strike, Freedom of Association, in particular the right to organize activities for the purpose of promoting and protecting workers’ interests, cannot be fully realized."

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, “Having created the crisis, employer groups and some governments were refusing to allow the issue to be taken to the International Court of Justice even though the ILO Constitution says it should be. We’ve now managed to negotiate a solution which protects the fundamental right of workers to take strike action, and allows the ILO to resume fully its work to supervise how governments respect their international labour standards obligations.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

ACOSS: Welfare Review: right questions, flawed model

Wednesday February 25, 2015

Though welcoming key aspects of the McClure report released today, the Australian Council of Social Service said the final report of the Federal Government’s commissioned review of Australia’s welfare system was a missed opportunity to move to a more rational system based on people’s financial need rather than decisions about ‘deservedness’.
“We congratulate Social Services Minister Scott Morrison on the release of this Report today and his commitment to further engagement with the community to inform the Government’s response,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
“This report should be used as a starting point for further discussion with the community with an objective of achieving structural reform that is bold in vision and scope. It usefully identifies the key problems in the payment system which need to be addressed: complexity, unfairness, inadequacy and disincentives to work.
“However, some of the Report’s suggested answers are flawed. While some current income support recipients would go on to a higher payment than they receive currently, many newer applicants would be worse off under the proposed rules. Additionally, the recommended 4-yearly reviews on adequacy are welcome, but indexing to CPI or another price index in the interim would be likely to erode the value of payments over time. In the case of the Aged Pension, the Commission of Audit estimated this erosion at $80/week in a decade if pensions are indexed to prices only.
“Moreover, for people of working age, four income support payment levels instead of three is neither simpler or fairer; and four definitions of disability is likely to be unworkable. To this end, we urge the Government to design a simpler model than that proposed in the Report, which is founded on the principles of adequacy, consistency and fairness.
“We know that many stakeholders raised concerns about the adequacy of allowances and the increasing gap between pensions and allowances. We would have liked to have seen a stronger recommendation that payments to people who are unemployed need to be increased as an urgent priority.
“We welcome the recommendation to establish a panel to regularly review payment adequacy and make recommendations about payment levels. We support this proposal and call on the Government to conduct an initial review of adequacy as a next priority in the reform process.
“Under the current system, people in similar circumstances with similar basic living costs receive different levels of financial support and face different expectations of work. Unfortunately, the Report recommendations preserve many of these inconsistencies and create new anomalies in the system through its complex tiered payment proposal.
“While the Report recommends setting higher rates for people with limited capacity to work who are less able or unable to supplement their payments through earned income, this assumes people can get paid work. Yet as we know from the current job market, this is very difficult at the moment.
“While there are savings to be achieved through better targeting parts of the payment system, specifically to address the growth in the Aged Pension, there is very little waste in the working age payments system which is the focus of this Review. In responding to this Report, the Government has an opportunity to reset policy after the Budget and abandon harsh measures that will do nothing to support people in paid work.
“We strongly support the recommendation for a jobs plan for people living with a disability or mental health conditions in the first instance. But it it hard to understand why the review does not include other disadvantaged groups in the plan, including people who are unemployed long term. We look forward to discussing with the Federal Government options to better assist this group, now a majority of people on the Newstart Allowance.
“Any reform must be complemented by increased support to assist people to find paid work, particularly people who are long-term unemployed, older people, single parents, carers and people with a disability. 
‘In addition to the Minister’s commitment to an open dialogue on the Government’s reform process from here, we also need a conversation between community organisations, employment services, and employers, so that we can progress policy changes that will work to improve the job prospects of people disadvantaged in the labour market, and to provide adequate income support for those who need it.

“Ultimately the changes we make must simplify the system, improve payment adequacy, and support people into work, as well as to improve the fairness and equity of the system," Dr Goldie said.

Smoking survey - nearly 2 million will die

Two out of three smokers, or about 1.8 million Australians, will die because of their habit, the first large-scale Australian study on the link between smoking and mortality shows.

The study, published in the international journal BMC Medicine, found the smoking "epidemic" reduced a smoker's life expectancy by 10 years on average.

Scientists from the Sax Institute in Sydney and the University of Melbourne followed 200,000 smokers over the age of 45. 

Professor Emily Banks, the lead author of the study, said smoking was a "very, very powerful addiction" and she hoped the findings would give people the information they needed to really consider whether they should continue to smoke.

Smoking statistics

  • 200,000 smokers over 45 surveyed
  • 2.7 million smokers in Australia
  • 1.8 million of them will die from their habit
  • Smoking reduces life expectancy by 10 years
  • Smoking ten cigarettes a day doubles the risk of death
  • Smoking 25 cigarettes a day increases risk of death by four to fivefold
Source: Sax Institute

"Even though we've been incredibly successful at tobacco control in Australia we still have 2.7 million smokers," Professor Banks said.

"And 1.8 million of those smokers will die from their habit if they don't quit."

The three main conditions that kill smokers are cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Professor Banks said those who smoked 10 cigarettes a day doubled their risk of death and that figure was much higher for heavy smokers. 

"People who were smoking 25 or more cigarettes a day [had] up to a four to fivefold increase in their risk of dying," she said.

A number of people quit smoking during the course of the study and Professor Banks said the increase in risk was "actually an underestimate".

"In a way this two-thirds figure actually tips the balance," she said.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Budget proposal : St Vincent de Paul

The St Vincent de Paul Society has taken the federal government to task over its misleading statements about intergenerational theft.

Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon said: “The intergenerational theft that the government should be worrying about is the theft of opportunities for the next generation.

“We are engaging in intergenerational theft if we fail to invest properly in education, from pre-school right through to TAFE and university, making it accessible to all, not just the wealthy.

“We are engaging in intergenerational theft if we put the boot into young unemployed people rather than offering a practical jobs plan, especially in areas of high youth unemployment.

“We are engaging in intergenerational theft if we water down the protections afforded to people struggling to survive at the low-paid end of the labour market or on its insecure fringes.

“We are engaging in intergenerational theft if we do nothing to address the crisis in social and affordable housing today or the funding uncertainty for homelessness services, leaving a bleak future for people at risk of homelessness or experiencing housing stress.”

In its pre-budget submission the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia argued that, in order to halt growing inequality, revenue foregone in unfair tax concessions should be re-invested in ways such as:

  • Re-funding the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness; increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance by at least $25 per week; and re-targeting capital gains tax and negative gearing so that they act as an incentive to build affordable housing.
  • Raising Newstart by at least $50 per week immediately; indexing all payments to the Average Male Weekly Earnings, rather than the Consumer Price Index, to reflect the true cost of living.
  • Long-term funding for peak housing and homelessness advocacy organisations, and reversing the cuts to services that support women leaving situations of family violence.
  • A Jobs Plan for Australia’s future.

National President, Anthony Thornton said: “There are a wide range of revenue-raising measures that the government should undertake to ensure resources and opportunities are fairly distributed, not concentrated in the hands of a few. This means rational tax reform, including the closure of tax loopholes that currently benefit the wealthy.

“The Budget is an opportunity for government to set out its vision for Australia. We hope that the vision for 2015–2016 will not be one of degradation and despair but rather one of inclusion and optimism.”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ocham's Razor: Necessity for Australian Manufacturing

Greece: "we won the battle, but not the war"

The Greek prime minister says a new agreement to extend the country’s bailout voids the previous administration’s austerity commitments. The politician said, “we won the battle, but not the war,” but believes further difficulties lie ahead.
Alexis Tsipras made the comments in a televised statement on Saturday. He spoke of the “important success” of Greece being able to negotiate a funding agreement with eurozone ministers, which will see the bailout extended by four months.
The PM hailed this as, “the end of austerity and the bailout,” as Athens was able to severe ties with the ‘hated’ Troika group, which was responsible for making sure the country stuck to its bailout conditions and repay its international creditors.
"We won a battle, but not the war. The difficulties lie ahead of us,'' he said, following an agreement to draft a new set of proposals and reform measures on how the country will pay back its debt, which it will have to present on Monday. Greek Prime Minister Tsipras is meeting with his cabinet on Saturday to discuss the proposals.
“The four-month period will be a time to rebuild new relations with Europe and the IMF," Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told reporters on Friday following the agreement. "Greece has turned the page" and won some time to negotiate a better bailout deal, the official said, emphasizing that Greece had not used any threats or bluffs to reach an interim agreement.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mavis Robertson: Tribute to a pioneer of superannuation in Australia

18 February, 2015 | Media Release

Australian Unions have paid tribute to one the leading pioneers of Australia’s compulsory super system, Mavis Robertson AM, who died overnight at the age of 84.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said Ms Robertson was a driving force behind the development of the industry super fund network.

“Mavis devoted her working life to the union movement and to developing industry super funds from very small beginnings into the major economic institutions they are today,” said Ms Kearney

“Her focus was always on delivering profits to members, which is at the heart of industry super.

Ms Kearney said Mavis was a vocal advocate on women’s issues and retirement.

“She put the concerns and needs of women, especially the low-paid, at the centre of economic debate.”

Mavis Robertson was an integral part of many industry initiatives including being a founding member of the Conference of Major Super Funds (CMSF); Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST); Women in Super; the Australia Council of Super Investors (ACSI); and the Mother’s Day Classic – the latter having raised more than $24 million for Breast Cancer research.

Ms Robertson served as a mentor to many senior women in superannuation and fought hard to ensure that women from all levels of the industry were well-represented on boards, committees and at industry events.

She was awarded membership of the Order of Australia for her services to the superannuation industry in 1984.

Ms Kearney said Mavis leaves an enduring legacy in superannuation.

“Mavis was a remarkable person who used her energy and intellect to benefit others, and who never lost sight of the not-for-profit ethos and social policy side of superannuation".

ACTU: Defend the Right to Strike

Vic: Boral CEO Mike Kane: Anti-worker, can't accept election result

(Opinion piece by CFMEU Secretary John Setka, which appeared in Australian Financial Review 20/2/15)

It seems that newspaper editors deem it highly newsworthy every time Boral CEO Mike Kane gets angry because he doesn’t get his way.
Yet again, we are treated to a front page article in the Australian Financial Review detailing his anger that the Victorian State Government has decided to do away with the Construction Code Compliance unit. Putting aside the cultural cringe – that every view Mike Kane expresses must be treated with absolute seriousness because he is an American - more importantly, he seems to have a problem with the democratic process.
Anti-union Liberals dumped
Perhaps it has escaped Mr Kane’s attention but there was an election in Victoria in November last year, where voters threw out the previous government. This clearly shows that the majority of Victorians didn’t agree with their policies and wanted a different government. This is despite the fact that the Liberal Party ran a negative, fear based campaign based on the CFMEU – which obviously failed. The public didn’t buy it.
Hand in glove with Tony Abbott, the Napthine Government and the Liberal Party spent a lot of time and money attempting to smear the union with unfounded allegations while at the same time, introducing laws that curtailed our ability to organise on site.
Attack on workers' rights
The Construction Code Compliance Unit was set up by the former Liberal Government – not to investigate crime – but to put one more obstacle in the union’s path in our attempt to do our job and represent workers in the industry. It is stating the bleeding obvious to say the Code Compliance Unit was a blunt political tool. There was no function to it other than that.
It is part of the Liberals’ industrial relations program – of which they make no secret – to dismantle workers’ rights and conditions. They want a return to WorkChoices. They argue that workers in our industry have it too good, while developers and multinational companies are reporting record profits.
They allege that the union is corrupt and criminal, but cannot point to any concrete evidence. They accuse regulators of not doing their job when they don’t find in favour of big business, but remain silent when corporate Australia engages in illegal, corrupt behavior.
Double standard
A recent addition to the long list of corporate skullduggery that includes Leighton and Walton Construction is the Manildra group who were recently listed as donors to the Liberal party to the tune of $420,000. Two weeks ago, CFMEU organisers in NSW, in the course of doing their job, uncovered that the company was employing foreign workers for $4 an hour while forcing them to live in cramped conditions.
We are still waiting for someone in the Liberal Government to express their outrage.
We know that Mr Kane does not approve of the laws in this country. He was given 45 minutes, uninterrupted, at the Royal Commission in which to extoll his political views on the limitations of the Australian legal system, comparing us to the US and asserting we needed to look at mimicking their way of doing business.
He has also been given plenty of space in the electronic and print media to air his grievances. The matter between Boral and the CFMEU is before the courts, but Mr Kane seems insistent on putting us through a trial by media, grabbing every opportunity to vent and slander the union with accusations that we are ‘crooks’ and ‘thugs’.
Mr Kane’s assertion that the union and Mr Andrews are in ‘lockstep with each other’ is simply a leftover from the Liberal’s failed campaign in the state election.
But for the record, our wish list for the industry to any government includes addressing the chronic underpayments of workers, curbing sham contracting, stopping the abuse of 457 visas, changing the laws to prevent phoenix companies, increasing training opportunities and apprenticeships, better safety standards on all sites and more serious penalties when a worker is killed.
I think Mr Kane will find that most of the community is in ‘lockstep’ with us on these issues, but most of the community doesn’t have the leverage to make their views known as loudly and prominently as Mr Kane.
When they were given the chance at the election, the community were pretty clear and pretty loud. They rejected the anti worker policies of the Liberal Government, including the Code Compliance Unit.
It’s called democracy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

CFMEU: Workers Victory v. Boral and De Martin and Gasparini

De Martin & Gasparini workers have won their battle against multi-national Boral and De Martin and Gasparini for a union agreement.

After rejecting a substandard, non-union agreement put to them before Christmas, workers took protected action to secure decent wages and conditions for themselves and their families.

The De Martin & Gasparini workers proved the power in standing together as CFMEU members and fighting for their rights and conditions.

The De Martin & Gasparini workers have won a good pay increase, site allowance matrix and retained their shutdown weekends and the RDO calendar. They did this in the face of massive pressure to concede these issues in the face of the company’s demands for an agreement that complied with the Abbott Government’s Draft Code for the Building Industry.

State Secretary Brian Parker stated, “The DMG workers have shown that by sticking together, being strong and being UNION, these workers have won a great Union EBA that will secure them, and their families, decent wages and conditions”.

The Union thanks all CFMEU delegates, the Building Trades Group of Unions, the MUA, Unions NSW Affiliates, David Shoebridge MLC, and all the activists and all the workers at Barangaroo that lent their support to the De Martin & Gasparini workers. This is a victory for union strength.

Brian Parker
State Secretary, CFMEU

Millers Point – Struggle Continues with Maddy Carty Song

David Hicks wins legal challenge

Australia's David Hicks, a former prisoner at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, has won a legal challenge to his terrorism conviction before a military court in Cuba.

Mr Hicks was held at Guantanamo Bay from January 2002 until May 2007, when he pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in a plea bargain that suspended all but nine months of his sentence and allowed him to return home to Australia.

Last year, an appeals court ruled material support was not a legally viable war crime but prosecutors argued the conviction should stand because Mr Hicks agreed not to appeal as part of the plea deal, an argument that has now been rejected by the US Court of Military Commission Review.

Wells Dixon from the Centre for Constitutional Rights said Mr Hicks was aware of the decision and was thrilled. 

"We are very happy for David," he said.

"Today's decision is a powerful reminder that he committed no crime, he is innocent of any offence.

"David Hicks can now be truly free of Guantanamo."

Stephen Kenny, Mr Hick's lawyer in Australia, said the decision confirmed his client's innocence.

"Well it means David Hicks' conviction has been set aside and he's been declared an innocent man so it confirms what we knew all along," he said.

"David Hicks was innocent and that has formally been recorded by the military commission itself."

Mr Hicks' father, Terry Hicks, said he was relieved that years of legal battles and uncertainty had come to an end.

"David would be pretty elated about it at the moment as well," he said.

"It's been a long road which has finally now come to an end.

"It's pretty hard to take in at the moment."

Mr Hicks said now that his son's case was finalised, life could go back to "normal".

"We can get on with what we want to do without the worry of how things are going with court cases," he said.

"That's the end of it."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

AGL to review CSG business

Energy company AGL has announced a major internal review of its coal seam gas (CSG) business, after a number of setbacks in recent months.

CSG operations at Gloucester, north of Newcastle, ceased indefinitely in January due to the detection of toxic chemicals in flowback water.

The banned chemical BTEX was found in flowback water taken from two of the four wells at the site, and from an aboveground water storage tank.

An Environment Protection Authority (EPA) report into the incident is expected in the next few days.

The report focused on why AGL waited almost a fortnight to inform the EPA of the potentially toxic chemicals.

The Coalition Government banned the use of BTEX as part of the fracking process, but the chemical compound is naturally occurring and CSG activity may bring it out of the ground.

AGL executive Mike Moraza, who led the CSG arm of the company, retired immediately as the internal review begins.

In a statement, the company said it will look into what structure it needs to safely explore for and produce gas resources.

"The review will encompass the management structure and the operational and management practices required to position the business to deliver on its goals of safely exploring for and producing gas resources for AGL's customers," it said.

W.A. Night trains still run

WA Police Minister Liza Harvey has hinted that late-night weekend train services may be saved while admitting she was not consulted about a move to scrap them.

The State Government has faced heavy criticism over its plan to axe the after midnight service in Perth on weekends.

Transperth said an average of just 80 passengers used each service and it was not viable to continue them.

But after a public backlash, there have been indications from the Government the decision could be overturned if passenger numbers improved before the service was due to cease operation in April.

In Parliament today, Ms Harvey said there was room for change.

"I've had consultation with the Minister for Transport and I understand that decision is being revisited," she said.

Transport Minister Dean Nalder said people would need to "vote with their feet" to keep the service alive.

"We haven't set a defined number of what that would be," he said.

"But on low patronage this service is not justifiable."

Mr Nalder was unable to answer questions in Parliament about how the average number of passengers using the services was calculated, or which of the late-night trains were free, which the Opposition seized upon.

"It simply shows this Minister is out of his depth in managing our public transport system," Labor MP Ken Travers said.

"The Minister should be fully briefed and be able to answer very simple questions."

1965 Student Freedom Ride Re-enactment

A busload of Sydney university students, past and present, has set off on a re-enactment of the Freedom Ride undertaken by Indigenous activists across regional New South Wales in 1965.

The original bus tour of regional NSW towns led by the late Charlie Perkins brought the plight of Indigenous people and the extent of segregation to national attention.

The commemorative trip will include 13 of the original Freedom Riders, including ABC chairman and former chief justice Jim Spigelman.

The riders will visit regional towns such as Dubbo, Walgett, Moree and Kempsey.

Perkins' daughter, filmmaker Rachel Perkins, said the commemorative trip was also a chance to consider the disadvantage still facing many Indigenous people.

"Anniversaries like this are a time to reflect on what was achieved in the past, but to also think about what are we going to do now," she said.

"I think the closing the gap report which has just been released, which the Prime Minister describes as profoundly disappointing, still shows the very marked difference in wellbeing between indigenous people and our fellow Australians."

Ms Perkins said her father's trip was a catalyst for the 1967 referendum, which led to the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the census and enabling the Commonwealth to make laws for them, and she hopes this ride will also lead to constitutional change.

"We need to continue to look at the living situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the legal status of our people and how our people are reflected in the constitution," she said.

"We just can't say, 'oh well, we're not going to do anything about it, it doesn't matter'.

"The freedom ride is about change. It's about saying this is not good enough, and what are you going to do about it."

Riders hope towns more receptive than in 1965

Three of the original freedom riders, Alan Outhred, Colin Bradford and Bob Gallagher, said they hoped the towns would be more receptive to this trip than they were in 1965.

They said they may not be as radical as they were in their student days, but the spirit was still strong.

"Give us a chance," they said.

"Well we've seen the itinerary - we're going to be run off our feet.

"They'll probably run us out of town again I think. I would if I was them."

Mr Bradford said he was looking forward to catching up with his fellow riders on the bus.

"This will be a time of remembering but also connecting with current students, maybe meeting up with some of the Aboriginal people we met 50 years ago," he said.

Charles Perkins, organiser of the 1965 Freedom Ride

Learn from Ride, Vice Chancellor urges students

University of Sydney Vice Chancellor Michael Spence urged his students to aim to make a difference.

"I charge you as you go to these communities to listen, to learn about yourself and about this place," he said.

"To listen and to learn about how we can work together to make a new kind of Australia."

He also acknowledged that conditions on this trip would not be as harsh as those encountered in 1965.

"There's going to be a lot that's different," he said.

"The buses will be air-conditioned. You'll be sleeping in hotels, not on the floor."

Rider and student representative council president Kyol Blakeney, only the second Indigenous person the hold the position, said he was inspired by the original freedom riders and hoped to emulate the success of Charlie Perkins and others.

"You see the result of something like the freedom ride 50 years ago and you know that they were doing the same thing and had the same views as you do right now," he said.

"And if they can make a change then who knows where we'll be 50 years after this event."

Climate Change: Abbott frozen in time.,.

Anthony Albanese has attacked the Coalition’s record on climate change following new data showing 2014 was the hottest year on record.

The Labor frontbencher says Tony Abbott can no longer ignore the evidence on climate change.

Data released on Saturday by Nasa and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (Noaa) confirmed last year as the hottest 12 months since record-keeping began in 1880.

Albanese criticised the government for removing a cap on carbon pollution and damaging the renewable energy industry.

“Tony Abbott is frozen in time while the world warms around us,” he said.

Albanese said the government should join climate change discussions before the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris.

The G20 was a pathetic and embarrassing attempt to ensure there was indeed no discussion of climate change on the agenda, but of course that happened anyway,” he said.

Albanese told reporters Labor would not reintroduce a carbon tax, but rather introduce a cap and trade system.

“But we’ve said very clearly, our principles are there ... of having a price on carbon, having a cap on the amount of emissions.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Plan to stop deficit pace

Ian Varrender

Let's get a couple of things straight here. Australia has a structural deficit problem that needs to be addressed. It is not a disaster. At least not yet. But the problem is getting worse and at a pace that is accelerating.

Fixing it requires leadership and initiative and at least the perception that the pain will be equally shared.

It also requires an understanding of where the problems lie. And unfortunately, this Government continually misses the mark on why our finances are deteriorating.

While the Prime Minister and Treasurer bang on about spending, and point the finger at the former government, it is a revenue shortfall that is the culprit. And it's been that way for years.

The Government's own budget paperstell the story.

Apart from the period in 2008/09 at the height of the financial crisis, spending during the Rudd and Gillard era as a proportion of GDP was on par with that of the Howard years. In 2012/13, spending was 24.1 per cent of GDP, a performance Howard beat only once in the new millennium.

Revenue, on the other hand, dropped sharply after the financial crisis as capital gains tax receipts plunged, corporate tax went backwards as earnings deteriorated and income tax cuts by Howard and Rudd took effect.

Despite all the bravado in opposition, including boasts that the budget would be in surplus in the first term of an Abbott Government, Hockey last week confided to his party colleagues the deficit may be permanent unless they pushed ahead with his austerity program.

You have to give him marks for persistence. But the alarming deterioration in the nation's finances have occurred on his watch. And it is completely out of his hands.

The recent plunge in commodity prices could wipe out an expected $40 billion over the next four years.

That will add to national debt and ballooning interest payments, which will further damage the budget.

A revenue crisis cannot be fixed by cost cutting alone. There now is an urgent need to tighten up the tax system and remove the loopholes that allow multinationals - including our homegrown ones - to shift billions around the globe to avoid tax obligations.

And if Abbott is serious about intergenerational theft, here's a neat little solution.

He could consider axing the $13 billion a year in superannuation sweeteners that accrue to wealthy older Australians.

And he could tighten up the negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions that cost a further $7 billion each year.

That could go a long way towards repairing the budget. And it may just help deflate a property bubble that threatens to, at best, create a landlord class of inherited wealth and, at worst, forever lock future generations of Australians out of the housing market.

Greece will ‘not be treated as a debt colony that should suffer’ –finance minister

February 16, 2015
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis
Greece isn’t playing negotiating games with the EU, says Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis as he readies to face his counterparts in Brussels Monday, unwilling to agree to more of the same austerity medicine.
Greece is determined not to be “treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must. The principle of the greatest austerity for the most depressed economy would be quaint if it did not cause so much unnecessary suffering,” Varoufakis wrote in a New York Times op-ed, published Monday.
The finance minister called the talks between Greece, EU finance ministers and central bankers, to be resumed Monday, a “turning point for Europe’s unfolding experiment with monetary union.”
Greece’s is one of the main players in the eurozone debt crisis, which began to unravel in 2009 and show the weakness of the then 18-member euro currency. The currency, which began circulating in 1999, was meant to make the EU a financial bloc to rival the US. But by banding together, no individual country of the union was safeguarded against the woes of another. In 2009, worries that Greece would default on its debt forced the EU to bailout the economy. Two bailouts were paid in 2010 and 2014 totaling €240 billion.
The new Syriza-led Greek government does not agree to the eurozone bailout under the same constraints as the former government.
“The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners’ trust,”Varoufakis said.
In total, Greece is more than €317 billion in debt, which is more than 175 percent its annual gross domestic product.
Finances are dwindling. Greece needs to negotiate with EU policymakers by February 28 in order to receive the next tranche of bailout funds. Athens and Brussels have been embroiled in financial rescue package talks since the new government won a snap election on January 25 on the promise of ending austerity.
Syriza is instead trying to renegotiate its bailout with its Troika of lenders- the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. The Greek government is asking for more time to negotiate, and wants a six-month bridging loan, not an extension of the old program, which has kept Greece in recession for more than 6 years.
No red lines will be crossed, and no games will be played, Greece just wants to start growing again, Varoufakis wrote.
“I am convinced that we have one option only: to shun any temptation to treat this pivotal moment as an experiment in strategizing and, instead, to present honestly the facts concerning Greece’s social economy, table our proposals for re-growing Greece, explain why these are in Europe’s interest, and reveal the red lines beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going,” the finance minister said.
"I promise you: Greece will then, in six months' time, be a completely different country,” the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Germany’s Stern magazine over the weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2015

German Unions: 'Greece after the election – not a threat but an opportunity for Europe'

The political landslide in Greece is an opportunity, not only for that crisis-ridden country but also for a fundamental reassessment and revision of EU economic and social policy.

We highlight once again the criticism already voiced on many occasions in the past by the trade unions: right from the outset, the key conditions under which Greece receives financial assistance did not deserve the label ‘reform’. The billions of euros that have flowed into Greece have been used primarily to stabilise the financial sector. At the same time, the country has been driven into deep recession by brutal cutbacks in government spending that at the same time have made Greece the most heavily indebted country in the entire EU. 

The consequence is a social and humanitarian crisis without precedent in Europe. One third of the population is living in poverty, the welfare state has been hugely weakened, the minimum wage cut by 22% and the collective bargaining system and other protections for those still in work dismantled; at the same time the burden of taxation on the lower income groups has been increased. Unemployment now stands at 27%, while youth unemployment exceeds  50%. Many people do not have the means to pay for food, electricity, heating and accommodation. A large share of the population no longer has health insurance and can access medical care only in emergencies. The election result is a devastating verdict on this failed policy.

All this had nothing to do with reforms designed to address Greece’s actual problems. None of the country’s structural problems has been solved, but additional ones have certainly been created. This has been a policy of cutback and destruction, not rebuilding.

Genuine structural reforms worthy of the name would have led to the emergence of new opportunities for economic development rather than driving a highly qualified generation of young people abroad.

Genuine structural reforms would have included serious attempts to tackle tax evasion.

Genuine structural reforms would have tackled clientelism and corruption in public procurement. The new Greek government is being challenged to draw up its own reconstruction and development plans, which have to become part of a ‘European Investment Plan’, as has long been demanded by the trade unions, and to create the conditions in which such plans can bear fruit.

Serious negotiations with the new Greek government must get under way, without any attempts at blackmail, in order to open up economic and social prospects for the country beyond the failed austerity policy. This applies in particular to the ruinous obligations agreed with the previous government, now voted out of office, that were the prerequisites for payment of the international loans. Europe must not persist in pursuing, at the expense of the Greek population, a policy that has been decisively rejected by the majority of Greek voters. Just carrying on regardless is no longer an option!

The rejection at the ballot box of those responsible for the previous policy in Greece is a democratic decision that must be respected at the European level. The new government must be given a fair chance.

Anyone who now demands that the country simply continue along the previous, so-called ‘path to reform’ is in fact denying the Greek people the right to a democratically legitimised change of policy in their country. And if they add that such a change of policy is, at best, possible only if Greece leaves the European currency union, then that is tantamount to saying that the European institutions are incompatible with democratic decisions taken in the member states. Such statements will merely give a shot in the arm to the burgeoning nationalist movements across Europe.

The democratic deficit at European level, oft-lamented but still not yet overcome, must not be even more firmly entrenched by constraining democracy in the member states. Rather, as many of us emphasised in 2012 in a call for action entitled ‘Founding Europe Anew!’, democracy at EU level must be strengthened if the European project is to gain renewed credibility. The European project will not be furthered by austerity dictates but only by a bottom-up democratic initiative in favour of economic regeneration and greater social justice.

This initiative must be supported now in the interests of the Greek people. At the same time, it will help to kick-start the process of policy change across Europe as a whole. The political upheaval in Greece must be turned into an opportunity to establish a democratic and social Europe!

Vic: Melbourne Metro reborn

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has revived Melbourne’s stagnant Metro rail tunnel project, having scrapped the former government’s plans for the East West Link cross-city road tunnel.

On Monday, Andrews announced that $40m in funding from Labor’s $300m election commitment towards the Melbourne Metro had been fast-tracked ahead of the May budget. It would be used to establish a Melbourne Metro authority to oversee immediate planning work, he said.

But with an estimated cost of between $9bn and 11bn, the project will require significant funding from private investors and the federal government.

The revised plan includes five new underground stations at Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain, effectively providing a second city loop. The project also links passengers to the University of Melbourne and hospital precincts, and to the business districts in Parkville and on St Kilda Road.

Melbourne Metro rail tunne
Revised plans for the Melbourne Metro include five new underground stations. 

Tony Abbott has previously said $3bn in federal funding allocated to the East West Link could not be redirected to other projects.

But Andrews said he was confident the prime minister would allocate one third of the funding required for the revived Melbourne Metro.

Great Barrier Reef: Coal ship captain arrested

The Australian Federal Police have arrested the captain of a Chinese coal ship for sailing through part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park without a pilot.

The captain — a Taiwanese national by the name of Lu — will plead guilty to a charge of being the master of a ship without a pilot in the marine park, an offence that carries a maximum fine of $85,000.

Captain Lu's matter was in a Newcastle court today but was adjourned until tomorrow after a request by his defence solicitor.

It is alleged the bulk carrier, the China Steel Developer, left the port of Mackay on New Year's Day and sailed through Hydrographers Passage, a deep water channel near Creal Reef off Mackay, without a pilot as required under law.

The ship is believed to have transported a load of coal to China before returning to Australia and anchoring off Newcastle last week.

AFP officers arrested Captain Lu on Saturday.

In 2010 a Chinese bulk coal carrier, the Shen Neng 1, ran aground on a reef off central Queensland after veering more than 10 kilometres outside the shipping lane.

The grounding damaged one of the ship's fuel tanks, resulting in a four-kilometre-long slick of heavy fuel oil.

It also carved a three-kilometre-long, 400,000-square-metre scar in and around Douglas Shoal, the largest known damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by a ship.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has said coral regrowth at the site has been hampered by toxic anti-fouling paint used on the hull of the Shen Neng 1.

The ship's first mate served three months in prison over the incident, while the vessel's master was convicted and fined $25,000. 

About 4,500 ships travel through the Great Barrier Reef to Queensland ports every year.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eight women in Queensland cabinet

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced a "mix of experience and fresh faces" in her 14-person ministry following the party's first Caucus meeting.

At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Ms Palaszcuk announced her cabinet would feature eight women, including Indigenous MP Leeanne Enoch.

All 44 Labor MPs met at Parliament House to discuss the composition of the party's newer, slimmer ministry.

During the election campaign, Labor promised to cut the number of ministers from 19 to 14, and have just one assistant minister, compared to the Liberal National Party's (LNP) 12.

They claimed the move would save $23 million over three years.

Ashgrove MP Kate Jones, who dethroned former premier Campbell Newman at the election, was named Minister for Education; Tourism, Major Events and Small Business and Minister for the Commonwealth Games.

Dr Anthony Lynham, who won a by-election last year, was named Minister for State Development and Natural Resources and Mines.

Redcliffe MP Yvette D'Ath, who also won a by-election last year, was made the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, as well as Minister for Training and Skills.

Earlier today, Ms Palaszczuk was greeted with a round of applause as she made her way into the Caucus meeting at Parliament House, flanked by her Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Treasurer Curtis Pitt.

"Well done, everyone," Ms Palaszczuk said to her gathered MPs.

"I think back three years ago there were seven us of us ... look now.

"We have climbed Mount Everest ... but having climbed Mount Everest there is now an enormous amount of responsibility that needs to be placed on each and every caucus member sitting here today.

"That's the responsibility of standing up for your constituents each and every day, not to be silent, but to represent them and fight for them every step of the way."

Ms Palaszczuk said her first act as Premier was to put "a clear stop to any work to do with asset sales".

Prior to today's meeting, Woodridge MP Cameron Dick said "hard work" would define the new Queensland Government.

"Hard work to make sure we stay connected to the people of Queensland, hard work to deliver on our promises and hard work to change Queensland for the better," Mr Dick said.

"Today with the first meeting of the state Labor Caucus we see the end once and for all of the Newman government ... I and I know so many Queenslanders are so glad to see the back of a bad government.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bully-boy Abbott leadership style continues

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser spoke out this morning in support of HRC president Ms Triggs, saying Mr Abbott had handled the report very badly.

"If the Government had wanted to handle the matter sensibly, they would have said they recognise there have been abuses," he told AM.

"[They would have said] they will examine those abuses and have been, indeed, since they got the report in November - which, obviously, they haven't been - and they would have thanked the Commission for its work and said, 'we've got to get children out of detention as soon as possible'."

"Now, instead of doing that, they've chosen to attack the commission as a body and to attack the chairperson in particular, which I think is outrageous. I know Gillian Triggs. She's a very good, distinguished lawyer," he said.

Mr Fraser denied suggestions Ms Triggs had a political agenda or that the commission had a case to answer.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

"Absolutely not. She is fulfilling the charter laid out in the legislation," he said.

"I actually believe that, when this dies over, which it will do, that the people who are going to be damaged by the whole incident are the people in the Government and the Prime Minister in particular, because the Commission's reputation stands high amongst sorts of people. 

"The chairperson's reputation stands high. And if criticism is to carry any weight, you've got to have some opinion of the person uttering it."

Mr Fraser said the response from Mr Abbott to the report showed he had not changed his "bully-boy" leadership style since the spill motion last week.

"The Prime Minister has got his back to the wall," Mr Fraser said.

"He's just survived a near rebellion from his own backbench and he has demonstrated, since then that ... he has not changed; he has not learnt; he has behaved in the same bully-boy fashion, which is a reputation that has haunted him since long before he was Prime Minister.

Rights activist Faith Bandler dies aged 96

Faith Bandler
Bandler was instrumental in campaigning for the 1967 referendum to give Indigenous Australians rights under the constitution.

A state funeral has been offered to her family. “Our country has lost a champion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” said the prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, in a statement on Saturday.

In 1956, Bandler helped establish the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship and was general secretary of the federal council for the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Bandler received many awards for her work. She was named as a national living treasure and receiving the Order of Australia.

“Her legacy lives on in our journey toward the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and opposition Indigenous Affairs spokesman Shanye Neumann said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Annastacia Palaszczuk new premier of Queensland

Annastacia Palaszczuk new premier of Queensland after Labor wins 44 seats.

Labor set to complete a remarkable recovery after 2012 wipeout as Thuringowa and Townsville are declared in 

Queensland premier in waiting Annastacia Palaszczuk. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Annastacia Palaszczuk will take power in Queensland after the electoral commission declared enough seats for the party to form a parliamentary majority with the independent Peter Wellington.

Palaszczuk emerged as premier elect after nearly two weeks of electoral uncertainty amid a close contest punctuated by a legal dispute over a disqualified candidate and the Liberal National party claim it should retain caretaker government for perhaps months.

Confirmation that Labor had the numbers to govern in the state’s 89-seat parliament came when the commission declared the north Queensland seats of Thuringowa and Townsville in its favour on Friday afternoon.

That gave Labor 44 seats to the LNP’s confirmed 42 in a huge swing away from the Newman government, deposed less than three years after the greatest electoral landslide in Australian political history.