Thursday, April 30, 2015

severe housing crisis hitting low-income earners

A severe housing crisis is hitting low-income earners, with few affordable accommodation options available to them, a report from the charity group Anglicare shows.

A survey of 65,614 properties available online over one weekend found only 618 across the country suitable for a couple on unemployment benefits with two children.

A single parent with two children had just 165 options to put a roof over their heads.

Someone on unemployment benefits would largely fail to find cheap housing in an Australian city, where most of the jobs are, the report said.

Singles on welfare are among the most disadvantaged looking for housing, it found, with less than 1% of properties affordable.

Anglicare said people from all walks of life were forgoing daily necessities to pay the rent. Others were living in overcrowded houses, couch-surfing, or living in cars, parks, shelters or doorways.

It is using the findings to call on the government to develop a national plan to resolve the housing shortage, including targeting negative gearing.

“This [negative gearing] is a huge amount of money from the taxpayer to the wealthy and we’d like to see some obligation back,” executive director Kasy Chambers said.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Abbott remark smacks of racism

The UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people said Australia had “regressed” in its treatment of Indigenous communities and that a remark by prime minister Tony Abbott about remote communities “smacks of racism”.

Up to 150 remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia are threatened with closure after an announcement last November that federal funding for them would be allowed to lapse.

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices,” Abbott said in March in support of the decision, “if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.”

The UN rapporteur, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, took issue with Abbott’s characterisation of the desire of Indigenous communities to inhabit ancestral grounds as “lifestyle choices”. 

Speaking to the Guardian in New York, she said: “This whole issue of racist kinds of pronouncements doesn’t really speak well of how governments are supposed to be complying with their human rights obligations.

“At least don’t be saying these kinds of pronouncements. Because it really just complicates the whole issue, and it really shows how uncommitted some governments are in relation to their compliance to human rights instruments.”

Tauli-Corpuz said that representatives of the Kimberley Land Council, in Western Australia, had met her at the UN to seek her help. Tauli-Corpuz said she had written to the Australian government to ask for more support for remote communities.

“The cutting back of the federal funding for these communities is really worrisome,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “If they would like to continue staying there, then they should be given that choice. Because it’s their life. To say it’s a lifestyle choice, and they don’t deserve any support from the government … they are still citizens of Australia.”

Tauli-Corpuz, who was appointed last June after five years as chair of the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues, acknowledged that Australia was dealing with a tight budget.But she said the decision to defund remote communities, and Abbott’s characterisation of that decision, were misguided.

“I was surprised to hear it,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “I really think that saying that kind of thing and then linking it, and using it as a justification to reduce any federal funding is really an issue ... It also smacks of racism, of course.”

Upon taking office in 2013, Abbott declared himself a “prime minister for Aboriginal affairs”, taking on the portfolio directly.

Tauli-Corpuz, who as a member of the Kankana-ey Igorot people from the northern Philippines is the first indigenous woman to hold the rapporteur post, said the Australian government had “regressed” in extending aid to Indigenous communities.

“From what I heard they have really turned – they have regressed,” she said. “The funds are being cut very drastically. So any kind of support that goes to Aboriginal people has really been decreased, according to the leaders I spoke with.”

“They said it has really deteriorated more than what it has been in previous years. That’s what they claim.”

Sloppy Joe Hockey - risky super plan

Soon-to-be retirees are being warned by the Reserve Bank governor that they face tough times ahead and will need to take risks with their lifesavings to fund their retirement.

Central banks around the world have lowered their interest rates to record lows to stimulate their economies, causing yields on safe investments such as term deposits to fall.

The RBA’s Glenn Stevens says that as a result, retirees will have to take more risks with their investments than those in the past in order to generate an adequate future income.

“Those seeking to make that purchase now – that is, those on the brink of leaving the workforce – are in a much worse position than those who made it a decade ago,” he told a banking summit on Tuesday.

“They have to accept a lot more risk to generate the expected flow of future income they want.”

National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said historically low interest rates had halved the income of some retirees in the past couple of years.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Abbott - climate septic sceptic

Australia is emerging as “public enemy number one” of the United Nations climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, according to a Nobel laureate of medicine speaking from a sustainability symposium in Hong Kong. 

Prof Peter Doherty is representing Australia at the symposium, held every three years and which is being attended by 11 other laureates from around the world, who will sign a memorandum detailing their recommendations for making major cities sustainable.

The four-day symposium ends on Saturday afternoon, and Doherty said a clear message had emerged from his peers, who hold expertise across specialities including climate, economics and business.

“People are saying informally that Australia and Canada are emerging as public enemy number one for the Paris talks on climate,” Doherty said.

“No other names are being mentioned. Australia is seen as very much out of touch and out of sync with what’s happening globally.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Millions in taxpayer dollars ploughed into political inquiry while health, education, childcare and pensions remain in firing line

ACTU: 23 April 2015

With health, education, childcare and pensions still in the Budget firing line, the Abbott Government’s multimillion dollar tax payer funded political inquiry returned today with further proof that it’s nothing more than a witch hunt.

The Royal Commission has reportedly so far spent more than $50 million including lawyers’ fees in excess of $17 million.

This Royal Commission was established as, and remains a fundamentally political exercise and nothing Counsel Assisting said today can dissuade any sensible person from this view.

The Abbott Government claims there is a budget emergency but is happy to waste millions of dollars pursuing its own political agenda.

Instead of announcing a jobs plan or addressing gross tax avoidance by large multinationals that rob the Federal Budget of billions of dollars every year, the Abbott Government is ploughing money into a multitude of inquiries looking into laws that govern Unions and workplaces – when comprehensive and recently strengthened laws are already in place.

This Royal Commission has not investigated how major construction companies, including major publicly-listed companies have subcontracted to dubious individuals nor has it investigated how regulators such as ASIC do not have the resources to pursue unscrupulous employers who have been shown to have exploited 457 visa workers  – it has just focused on trade unions.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver

“The Abbott Royal Commission is a fundamentally political exercise.

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

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

The trade union movement is committed to strong, democratic and accountable unions and without effective unions, employment conditions in Australia would go backwards.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Abbott offers $4 million support to Climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg

A senior academic from the University of Western Australia (UWA) has confirmed the Abbott Government originally approached the university to set up a policy centre directed by controversial figure Bjorn Lomborg.

Dr Lomborg is a controversial figure in the scientific world, having attracted controversy in the past for suggesting the dangers of climate change are overstated and that alleviating poverty is a greater priority.

"The Federal Government approached the university," Paul Johnson Vice Chancellor of UWA said.

"It (the Government) said: 'Would the university be interested in considering setting up a centre to study long-term development goals both global and Australia?'"

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne earlier told Fairfax that "the Government is contributing around a third of the total cost of the centre based on a proposal put forward by the University of Western Australia and Dr Lomborg's organisation".

In a statement to the ABC, the spokesman said: "The Australian Government is providing $4 million in funding over four years to the University of Western Australia to bring the Copenhagen Consensus Centre methodology to Australia. It was a policy decision of the Government to create a centre that will commission research from both Australian and international economists to inform debate around domestic and international policies."

Professor Johnson said it was correct that so far all the money for the Australian Consensus Centre had come from the Government.

The Government has cut back on other scientific research across the country. 

Professor Johnson said that all past cuts implemented on research funding were very much an issue for the Government to consider.

Lomborg's advice to lead to catastrophe: Flannery

Environmental scientist and climate change writer Tim Flannery weighed in on the debate on Lateline.

"Well I was surprised to hear about the $4 million given to this Lomborg centre," he said.

"You know, the Climate Commission was abolished just a couple of years ago on the basis that the Government didn't have enough money to support the Climate Commission.

"To see the best Australians, the best-qualified Australians in the field, be let go because there was no money and then have someone from overseas just a few years later put in the place with abundant funding struck us as being odd.

"But I do get concerned when I see Government money going into a cause which is likely to misinform people rather than provide them with accurate, authoritative information."

"The one argument that he's been consistent about over the last decade is that we shouldn't do anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly, we shouldn't put a price on carbon or anything like that," he said.

"You know, if we took Lomborg's advice, we'd be heading towards a world four degrees warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution, and that's a catastrophe." 

New Report: Australia can cut emissions deeply and the cost is low

© Adam Oswell / WWFEnlarge
Australia can undertake ambitious emissions reductions and even reach 100% renewables and zero net emissions by 2050.
That’s one of the key findings of a new report that reviews the available evidence, Australia can cut emissions deeply and the cost is low, out today from the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy.
The report is being released ahead of the Federal Government’s decision on Australia’s post 2020 emission reduction targets, expected in June.
Other key points of the report are:
  • As one of the most vulnerable countries exposed to climate change, Australia’s national interest will be protected by strong global action.
  • Australia’s economy will continue to grow as deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are made.
  • Cutting emissions is getting cheaper, and achieving given targets tends to be cheaper than expected.
  • Cutting emissions can have significant other benefits, in addition to protecting Australia from future climate change. 
  • Report author Associate Professor Frank Jotzo said Australia can afford to be ambitious.
“Deep cuts to Australia’s emissions can be achieved, at a low cost,” Associate Professor Jotzo said.
“With our abundant renewable resources we are one of the best placed countries in the world for moving to a fully renewable electricity supply.
“Australia can achieve zero net emissions by harnessing energy efficiency, moving to a zero-carbon electricity system, switching from direct use of fossil fuels to decarbonised electricity, and improving industrial processes.”
WWF-Australia’s National Manager – Climate Change Kellie Caught said the Australian Government should commit to carbon pollution reduction targets that are based on science and fairness, which this research shows is not just desirable, but affordable as well.
“Australia needs to do its fair share to help limit global warming to well below 2 degrees warming to keep Australia great,” Ms Caught said.
“We need an ambitious, science-based pollution reduction target so that we can ensure Australia’s natural beauty will still be around for our children and future generations
“The solution is clear: set an ambitous long-term goal for reducing carbon pollution, and take decisive action to make it happen. That’s the kind of leadership hardworking taxpayers deserve – let’s commit to leaving things better than we found them.”
The report was commissioned by WWF-Australia.

CPSU: ALP Super tax move a good first step

APR 22, 2015

Super tax move a good first step, with more to do, says public sector union

The Community and Public Sector Union welcomes the Opposition’s plan to tax the superannuation of high-income earners as a step in the right direction to key policy principles of fairness and sustainable revenue.

Under Labor’s proposals retirees would lose tax-free status on annual superannuation earnings above $75,000, and more people would pay 30 per cent tax on contributions, which would raise $14 billion.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said the moves would inject some fairness into super and tax.

“Labor’s announcement is a positive first step towards a fairer superannuation and tax system. Superannuation tax concessions have become a bonanza for high-income earners, while average Australians pay their fair share of tax at work and in retirement.

“It’s good to see Labor showing leadership on the need to have sustainable revenue, based on fairness, so Australians can get the support and services from Government they expect and deserve. The contrast with the shrill voices protecting multi-billion dollar tax concessions for our wealthiest, while cutting pensions, health, education and public services, is striking.”

“This policy would partially reverse Peter Costello’s give-aways to the wealthiest minority, which are now proving unsustainable and costing ordinary Australians.”

Ms Flood urged Labor to go further, and said that the policy principles of fairness and sustainable revenue needed to meet the community’s needs should be applied in other areas.

“Increasingly our community is calling for high income earners and big business to pay their fair share. We encourage Labor to consider further changing the capital gains tax discount and corporate tax measures such as the Buffett rule. There is also plenty of room to move on further measures to close loopholes that allow the very wealthy to use super as a vehicle to avoid paying their fair share of tax,” Ms Flood said.

Qld: Keppel MP Brittany Lauga defends unions and manufacturing

Keppel MP Brittany Lauga says it should come as no surprise that ALP politicians are members of unions.

Ms Lauga yesterday responded to a report in Monday's Courier-Mail that some Labor candidates in this year's state election - including herself - received union resources and support and had pledged to prioritise new manufacturing industries in return.

The story claimed union bosses were warning the Premier to honour commitments Labor made to them and had issued blatant reminders of how they helped the party secure an unlikely win in January.

Ms Lauga acknowledged support from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union during the campaign, but she said she made no commitments to the union in return.

"We made commitments to the people of Queensland, and they were commitments the union supported," she said.

"Especially to work out the best outcome for both employers and employees."

Prior to the election, Ms Lauga received in-kind support, advice from AMWU staff about members' issues and financial support, which she declared.

"The vast majority of income was from fundraising… BBQs, raffles and other community fundraising events... any donations were declared in accordance with declaration requirements," she said.

Ms Lauga has been a member of the AMWU for two years and a union member for most of her working life as a town planner.

"Planners come under the AMWU banner… it was formed by way of an amalgamation of professional organisations including architects and surveyors," Ms Lauga said.

"I think unions represent the interest of workers in the same way business groups represent the interests of employers.

"We worked with both groups during the campaign.

"The ALP said we will treat everyone fairly and we'll work with all groups to get the best outcome for Queenslanders.

"Labor Party foundations were built on working people getting together to collectively bargain for better working conditions… I'm in favour of supporting working Queenslanders, especially when it comes to ensuring they are safe and get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."

Ms Lauga said the modern manufacturing industries had changed a lot in the past few years and industries like clean coal, gas, gas transport, medical research, next-gen solar, ocean resources and food processing all had a role to play in the future.

She cited a Deloitte report, which identified 25 growth hotspots, or industries with the biggest potential to lift Australia's growth trajectory over the next 20 years.

"This provides a roadmap to help government and business understand how to position themselves and the country for future prosperity," she said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Abbott Medicine

CFMEU: Watchdog should have prosecuted company for worker abuse

The federal workplace watchdog has been criticised for not prosecuting a Taiwanese company that brought Chinese workers into Australia, paid them no wages for months and left them to live on a $15-a-day "food allowance".

Taiwanese company Chia Tung Development underpaid 13 Chinese and 30 Filipino workers more than $873,000 for labour performed in regional NSW over six months to February this year. Chia Tung employs more than 4000 staff globally and has associated entities registered within Australia.

The construction union said on Wednesday that the company should have been prosecuted given the extent of the abuse perpetrated on the workers.

The workers, who installed animal feed mills at sites in Narrabri, Manildra and Bomaderry, were employed as welders, metal fabricators and electricians and generally worked between nine and 11 hours a day, six days a week.

Chia Tung employed the Filipino men on 457 skilled worker visas and the Chinese, who spoke no English, were on temporary short-stay work visas.

The Chinese employees were promised about $10 an hour but were paid no wages for three months and only received a $15 a day 'food allowance'.

Almost 30 workers lived in a five-bedroom house with one toilet at Nowra, with nine sleeping in the living room. At Narrabri, six workers lived in a worksite office, while four lived in an onsite demountable.

Chia Tung unlawfully deducted fees for visa processing, flights, insurance, food and transport from the wages of the Filipino workers.

Despite the severity of the offences and the level of underpayment, the Ombudsman did not try to prosecute Chia Tung through the courts but opted to seek an enforceable undertaking from the company, arguing it achieved outcomes that would not have been possible through litigation.

But Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary Michael O'Connor said on Wednesday that the Ombudsman should have taken court action.

Mr O'Connor said ``more needs to be done to bring the company to account and achieve justice for the workers".

"Given the extent of the abuses the company perpetrated against these vulnerable workers, the mere recovery of wages was not enough," he said.

"A prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman would act as a deterrent to others who think that paying workers $15 dollars a day, forcing them to live in offices and shipping containers and docking their wages for migration fees is a good idea."

He said the Department of Immigration should also explain what it intended to do about the ``abuses of the temporary work visa system".

"How much abuse do workers have to cop before an employer is no longer allowed to bring in temporary overseas labour?" he asked.

Chia Tung has back paid the Filipino workers in full and agreed to backpay the Chinese workers in full by next week.

Chia Tung will donate $10,000 to the Philippine-Australian Community Services support organisation, issue written apologies to the underpaid workers, and place notices in newspapers and at the three work sites outlining its contraventions.

The company will also pay for external audits of its pay practices over the next 18 months, provide compliance reports to the ombudsman, require managers to undertake workplace training, and ensure its subsidiary companies and transferees comply with their workplace obligations.

"The EU with Chia Tung secured large back-payments for underpaid workers, as well as other measures focused on ensuring ongoing compliance, that would not have been possible through court action, which could have taken a year or more," Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said.

Mr Campbell said the underpaid Chinese workers had now returned home, while 20 of the Filipino workers were still employed by Chia Tung in Australia.

WA: Workers Expose Barnett Criminalisation of Protest

Unionist, church leaders, farmers, animal activists and environmentalists joined forces at Parliament House on Tuesday to voice concerns about the Barnett government's draconian new anti-protest laws.

The Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2015 introduced to the Legislative Council last month could see protesters who use devices to lock themselves to machinery face up to 12 months behind bars or a $12,000 fine.

In some cases, protesters could be jailed for 24 months and slugged with a $24,000 fine if they become aggressive and endanger the safety of others, including themselves.

Farmers could also be arrested for possessing an object, such as a chain, when locking their gates to fracking companies.

Representatives from WA Farmers Federation, the Uniting Church of WA, The Law Society of WA, Unions WA, The Conservation Council of WA and politicians from the Greens and Labor were on hand to pass the 145,000-strong petition calling on the WA government to withdraw the anti-protests laws to Nationals leader Terry Redman.

Catherine Davenport, from the Midwest town of Carnamah, said farmers wanted the Nationals not to support the "draconian laws".

She said Carnamah recently declared the area "gas field-free" after almost 97 per cent of locals rejected fracking coming to the area.

"My community has made a powerful declaration against gas fracking and we plan to stick to that," she told 200 protesters gathered at Parliament House.

"We are ordinary farmers – but we could be made into criminals by this new law, simply for defending our rights to clean air and water."

Irwin Shire mango and rockmelon farmer Rod Copeland said that any law that takes away the right of people to protect the health of their families should be rejected in parliament.

"Under this proposed law, farmers would become criminals for locking our gates against gas fracking on their land," he said.

"Even worse, farmers would be presumed guilty of a crime as the laws would reverse the presumption of innocence."

Uniting Church of WA Reverend Steve Francis said the new laws were harsh on people protesting in non-violent ways.

"People who are exercising their democratic right to protest often in the cause of justice, the vulnerable and the well-being of others do not need to be treated in such a punitive way," he said.

Unions WA boss Meredith Hammat said the new laws would treat workers fighting for better rights as criminals.

Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren said people needed to let the Barnett government know it "was a bridge too far to criminalise peaceful protest".

"They have taken our right away to complain," she said.

Climate Change Authority Recommendations

The Climate Change Authority (CCA) has recommended aggressive cuts in emissions beyond 2020 to ensure Australia does its fair share to combat climate change.

A CCA report recommends cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2025 based on the Australia's emissions from the year 2000.

This would require significant emissions cuts beyond the current 2020 target of 5 per cent.

Australia's emissions are less than 1.5 per cent of global emissions, however, per capita Australia is the biggest emitter of all developed nations.

Our economy can look pretty similar to the way it does today even when we've transitioned to low carbon energy sources.

Executive director of ClimateWorks Anna Skarbek

The CCA warned if the Government sat on the sidelines based on Australia's global share of emissions being small, it would be "more self-serving than credible".

"To maintain that posture in the light of increasing international actions to reduce emissions - by developed and developing, big and small countries - makes it even less credible," CCA Chair Bernie Fraser said.

"The fact is that Australia stands to be massively affected by global warming whatever its share of global emissions."

While the CCA conceded these are "challenging" targets, its report said many other countries were promising similar levels of emissions reduction.

The CCA previously suggested cuts of between 40-60 per cent by 2030.

But what would such cuts look like in reality?

'Economy can look pretty similar' 

Not-for-profit think tank ClimateWorks and the Australian National University conducted a study to look at such a future.

"Our economy can look pretty similar to the way it does today even when we've transitioned to low carbon energy sources," chief of ClimateWorks Anna Skarbek said.

"We would still have a strong mining sector, a strong manufacturing sector our household activities such as driving and flying would continue as they are. 

"The difference would be that we would use equipment that's powered with low carbon energy."

Ms Skarbek said a big change would be seen in the electricity sector.

"We would need to see a move away from fossil fuel electricity to low carbon electricity," she said. 

"Over time that would mean we would completely remove fossil fuel electricity - particularly coal fired power stations. 

"They would be replaced with a combination of renewable energy stations plus battery storage and or other low carbon energy sources."

The CCA has not modelled the cost of its recommendations.

ClimateWorks estimated that to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the economy would continue to grow, however at a rate 0.12 per cent slower annually than if there was no climate mitigation.

Previous target recommendations ignored

The CCA previously recommended Australia increase its current 2020 target.

"We haven't got a very good strike rate I have to say," Mr Fraser said.

"We did recommended more ambitious targets ... we talked about a [19 per cent] target for 2020 and that didn't get much of a run.

"And we recommended that the large-scale Renewable Energy Target scheme remain at 41,000 gigawatts and that didn't find favour either.

"So two strikes - we've stepped up to the plate a third time and we'll see what happens."

The Government said it would announce its post 2020 targets by the middle of the year and that it would consider the CCA's report as part of the process.

The 30 per cent figure is likely to serve as the upper limit of the options presented to Government to take to the UN's climate change talks in Paris at the end of the year.

A taskforce led by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is putting together those options for the Government.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Australia is well placed to reduce emissions at low cost

Australia is well placed to reduce emissions at low cost because the costs of carbon-free technologies such as wind and solar have fallen significantly in recent years.

A WWF report produced in collaboration with the Australian National University argues Australia could source 100% of its power from renewables by 2050 – without incurring massive adjustment costs or depressing economic growth – if there were clear and stable national policy settings to support investment in renewables.

Australia’s national climate policy does not extend beyond 2020.

The current commitment is to cut carbon emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, although a number of climate experts query whether the Abbott government’s Direct Action policy will achieve that target.

The Coalition’s desire to cut the existing Renewable Energy Target (RET) has triggered an investment drought in the sector. Despite repeated pleas from the sector and business groups, the standoff over the RET remains unresolved.

The government is expected to set post-2020 emissions reduction targets in June.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance (AESA) national online survey

By NSW Teachers Federation 14 April 2015

The NSW Teachers Federation as part of the Australian Education Union (AEU) is assisting the Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance (AESA) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) with a research project regarding the integration of sustainability into teaching practices in schools.

We are encouraging teachers who currently integrate sustainability into their school teaching practices to take part in a national online survey.

The primary objective of the survey is to evaluate the efficacy of a variety of online and offline resources designed to assist teachers with integrating sustainability into their teaching practices.

Results from this survey will be used to assist the ACF with the development of suitable resources to assist non-engaged teachers with integrating sustainability into their teaching practices.

The survey will take less than 15 minutes to complete.

To take part in the survey, please click on the link below:  

We ask that you complete the survey as soon as you can and by no later than Friday 15th May.

Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

ACTU: Make Jobs a Budget Priority

16 April 2015

The Federal Government must deliver a plan for jobs to avoid Australia developing long-term structural unemployment.

Today’s unemployment rate of 6.1% represents the tenth consecutive month Australia’s unemployment rate has been at or above 6%.

The less than 0.1 percentage drop does nothing to avert the risk that thousands of Australians will become trapped in long-term unemployment.

Australian Unions call on the government to reverse the $1 billion in cuts to skills and training it made in the previous budget.

The Coalition Government must also bring forward infrastructure investment in the coming budget to stimulate the economy and create new jobs.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“The Abbott Government needs to bring forward infrastructure spending to help boost economic growth and get Australians back to work.

“You can’t cut your way to economic growth and the unemployment figures show that.

“The Government’s austerity approach is undermining confidence in the economy – unemployment has now been at or above 6% for 10 months – it’s time to change direction and stimulate the economy instead of cuts, cuts, cuts.

“With unemployment still sitting above 6 per cent, it’s the worst possible time for the government to cut public sector jobs, threaten welfare payments and dent consumer confidence.”

Bad deal for Australians: Government must withdraw from TPP trade talks

16 April 2015

Australian Unions call for the federal government to stop negotiations on the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

A public forum at NSW Parliament House today will discuss details from leaked documents confirming proposals that could result in higher medicine prices and special rights for foreign companies to sue government over changes in laws or policies, including health, environment and workplace laws.

Australian Unions support trade deals with outcomes that are balanced, support jobs, protect the rights of working people and promote a healthy environment – this TPP does not do that.

Unions in all countries negotiating the TPP are calling for negotiations to be shut down unless there are genuine, transparent, public mandates that put people front and centre – not big corporations.

 Key concerns with the TPP include:

  • TPP leaks have revealed some countries are trying to reject protections of workers’ rights and the TPP deal does not cover United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on fundamental rights at work.
  • Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions will allow corporations to sue the Australian Government for making laws or policies that are good for Australian people but may lower their company profits.Examples of ISDS provisions being used to undermine government policy include tobacco company Phillip Morris suing the Australian Government for introducing plain cigarette packaging and multi-national corporation Veolia (that operates in Australia) suing the Egyptian Government for increasing the minimum wage.
  • Stronger patent rights for pharmaceutical companies on medicines will mean delays in availability of cheaper generic drugs and higher medicine prices. This will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and put vital medicines out of reach in poor countries.
  • The TPP will restrict our government’s ability to make national laws for public health, safety, the environment and general welfare.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“The TPP makes corporate profits more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability and workers’ rights.

“A fair trade deal needs to recognise and protect workers’ rights, environmental standards and access to quality public services – this is not happening with the TPP.

“TPP talks are being held in secret without unions, business, church, environmental or community groups being involved – this is great for big multinational companies but terrible for ordinary people and the role of governments.

“Unions in every country negotiating the TPP are calling for negotiations to be shut down unless there are transparent, public mandates that put community interests ahead of company profits."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Unions NSW Asbestos Petition

Would you believe us if we told you that April 16 has been declared National Chrysotile Asbestos Protection Day? Crazy right?

Well in Russia it is true. Russia is at the heart of the international asbestos lobbying industry exporting the deadly fibres and asbestos products to poorer countries around the world.

Sign the petition to ban the trade in all asbestos.

Russia lobbies countries in southeast Asia and eastern Europe to oppose international efforts to require labelling on asbestos products and restrictions on the trade of asbestos.

Every five minutes someone in the world dies of asbestos related disease resulting in over 100,000 deaths annually including 1,000 in Australia.

With global free trade talks continuing in Australia it looks like we will be signing up to a free trade deal with countries that openly trade in asbestos. That’s why today we are asking you to sign our petition to make Australia’s involvement in free trade deals asbestos-free. We are calling for all countries to ban the trading of asbestos at the Rotterdam Convention.

Sign our petition now to add your voice to the call to end asbestos trade.

By banning asbestos worldwide, we will be able to save countless lives.

In Union,
The Unions NSW Team

Thursday, April 16, 2015

ACOSS: New Report calls for action on Negative Gearing and Capital Gains Tax

Thursday April 16, 2015

In a new report released today, ACOSS is calling for action to restrict tax deductions for negatively geared property investments and the 50% discount on Capital Gains Tax, that are together costing the Budget $7 billion a year and fuelling housing price booms.

The report, ‘Fuel on the fire: Negative gearing, Capital Gains Tax and housing affordability’, dispels the myths that negative gearing makes rental housing more affordable and that the benefits mainly go to ‘mum and dad’ investors on middle incomes.

“Negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks must be front and centre in the tax reform conversation. It’s vital that the Government not rule out necessary reform in this area. This area of tax policy is shrouded in myth and those myths should be dispelled so that a sensible discussion can begin. That’s the purpose of this ACOSS Report,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Negative gearing and the tax break for capital gains don’t improve housing affordability; they make it worse by fuelling home price booms like the one in Sydney right now. Less than one tenth of negatively geared housing investments are for new properties, the other nine tenths bid up the price of existing housing.”

“These tax breaks also make it more difficult for the Reserve Bank to manage the economy. Over-heating in housing markets is making it harder for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates when this is needed. The tax breaks are feeding a fire which the Reserve Bank and APRA are trying to put out,” Dr Goldie added.

“This is a long standing problem and it’s time it was fixed. These tax breaks have inflated housing costs in every housing boom since the 1980s. Easier access to credit and the cut to capital gains tax in 1999 have made the situation worse. Since then, lending for investment housing has risen by 230% compared with 165% for owner occupied housing.”

“The best we can say is that negative gearing and the Capital Gains Tax discount are not the only drivers in inflating house prices. But there should no longer be any doubt that they add fuel to escalating house and rent prices by encouraging property speculation.”

“It’s not your average mum and dad investors on middle incomes who are benefitting from the generous tax concessions that have allowed two thirds of individual rental property investors, or 1.2 million people, to report tax-deductable ‘losses’ of $14 billion in 2011,” said Dr Goldie.

“The reality is that over half of geared housing investors are in the top 10% of personal taxpayers and 30% earn more than $500,000.”

“The reason that negative gearing strategies are widely used is that people can claim deductions for ‘losses’ against their wages every year, even though the investment is actually profitable because the value of the property rises every year. They then get a 50% tax discount on the value of their capital gains when it is sold.”

“There are better ways to support investment in affordable housing than encouraging people to borrow to speculate on home prices. A tax rebate on new housing such as the National Rental Affordability Scheme is one. That program should be expanded, not abolished.”

“ACOSS proposes that ‘negative gearing’ should not be allowed for new investments in property, shares and similar assets. This means that tax deductions for ‘losses’ on new investments should not be claimable against an individual taxpayer’s other income, including wages. To protect people who made investment decisions under the existing rules, existing investments would not be affected: the current rules would still apply until the property is sold.”

“We also propose, consistent with the Henry Report, that the 50% discount on individual capital gains be reduced and that the same tax break should apply to other investments such as bank accounts and rents received by housing investors. This would remove the tax bias in favour of speculation in the values of assets such as housing and shares.”

“As ACOSS and major housing organisations argued last month, there is no simple ‘fix’ for the housing affordability crisis. Federal and State Governments should also invest in social and community housing, improve Rent Assistance and ease barriers to construction of new homes including planning restrictions where these are too strict. Instead of taxing property transfers though Stamp Duties, State Governments should broaden Land Tax as proposed by the Henry Report.”

ACTU: Unions will target key marginal seats in Western Australia

Unions will target key marginal seats in Western Australia in the lead up to the next election as part of a national campaign to defeat the Abbott Government.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver is in Perth on Tuesday 14 April to finalise the campaign with UnionsWA Secretary Meredith Hammat.

The launch of the WA campaign comes as support for the federal Coalition and the Prime Minister’s approval rating in Western Australia have plummeted, according to Newspoll results for the first three months of 2015.

Nationally, the ACTU will utilise more than 20 new staff as marginal seat coordinators to run campaign activities in 32 nominated seats around Australia.

This includes staff in Perth to coordinate campaign activities in Western Australian seats, depending on the outcome of the current redistribution of seats.

Staff and resources for the campaign will be rolled out nationally over the next few months.

The following can be attributed to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver:

“This is not just about an election strategy - it’s about unions having campaigning capacity irrespective of who is in government at a state and federal level.

“It’s about having the ability to campaign on specific issues through a network of activists in marginal seats – whether it’s protecting penalty rates or tightening rules on 457 visas to protect local jobs.

“We have excellent coordination between the ACTU and all state Trades and Labour Councils and we will be well prepared if an early election is called.

“We made our voices heard in the Victorian and Queensland elections with one-term Coalition Governments and we can do it again with the Liberal Federal Government.”

The following can be attributed to Unions WA Secretary Meredith Hammat:

“In the past WA voters have backed the federal Liberal and National party coalition to a greater extent than anywhere else in Australia and, reflecting WA’s rising population, an additional federal seat will be created here at the next election.

“However it is increasingly obviously that the Abbott and Barnett Governments are willing to say one thing before an election and do something else after.

“Unions have won important reforms for our workplaces, including superannuation and decent health and safety standards. Such reforms cannot be protected or built upon without having an influence at the ballot box.

“There are over 150,000 union members in WA and this campaign is about engaging them so they can have a say in protecting their living standards."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Abbott climate policy = 2,500 renewable energy jobs lost

The renewable energy sector has lost almost 2,500 jobs in the last two years, according to official figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Job numbers in the sector peaked between 2011 and 2012 at 14,890, but fell by 15 per cent to 12,590 (a loss of 2,300 jobs) between 2013 and 2014.

Uncertainty surrounding the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) hit the sector hard, with industry groups claiming investment in clean technology has virtually stalled.

Major political parties are currently locked in a standoff over how much to cut the RET by, with the Government rejecting a proposal backed by Labor and the Clean Energy Council for a 33,500 gigawatt hour target. 

The current target was legislated at 41,000 gigawatt hours which, with demand for power falling, was likely to represent more than 20 per cent of Australia's energy mix by 2020.
The Government said it refused to accept anything above 32,000 gwh.

In October 2014, Keppel Prince Engineering announced it was shedding 100 workers from its south-west Victoria wind project.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics' first report into renewable energy employment highlighted how Government policies influence job levels in the sector via taxes, subsidies and pricing policies.

"Uncertainty over the future of the RET, or over the size of the renewable power percentage, is likely to have a flow on effect on future investment in renewable energy infrastructure," the report said.
"Since 2011-12 all mainland Australian states have experienced a decline in annual direct [full time equivalent] employment in renewable energy activities."

Among the hardest hit were the states of Queensland and Western Australia.

"The largest such fall was in Queensland, where employment fell by 34 per cent from 3,820 to 2,520 between 2011-12 and 2013-14," the report said.

"For the same period, Western Australia experienced a fall of 920 (from 1,740 to 820), or 53 per cent."

The report shows the industry grew by 41 per cent between 2009 and 2010 and the peak of 2011-2012.

ACTU: Young Australians face long-term unemployment and poverty without government investment

10 April 2015

A generation of young Australians will be trapped in long-term unemployment and poverty without investment in proven skills and training programs.
With National Youth Week starting today, the ACTU is urging the government to tackle rising youth unemployment by reversing its billion dollars in budget cuts to skills and training.

These cuts include the “Tools for your trade” program that helps apprentices pay for their equipment and the “Youth Connections” program to support 14 to 18-year-olds at-risk of dropping out of education or work.

Instead of investing in skills and training to help young Australians get a job, the Abbott government is trying to punish young unemployed people by making them wait six months before they can receive income support under its ‘learn or earn’ plan.

The government’s move to make it easier for employers to hire overseas workers on temporary work visas without any obligation to hire Australian workers or invest in skills and training is also costing young Australians job opportunities.

Australian Unions call on the Abbott Government to deliver a plan for jobs and to increase spending on skills and training in the coming budget.

The government must provide young Australians with training and job opportunities in order to tackle youth unemployment and ensure thousands of young Australians are not trapped in poverty.

Key facts:

  • The youth unemployment rate in February 2015 was 13.9% compared to 12.4% in Feb 2014
  • The Abbott Government cut $1 billion from skills and training  programs in the 2014 budget
  • The government cut a further $100 million in the mid-year update (MYEFO), including $66 million in support for adult apprentices and $43 million in funding to equip jobseekers with basic skills to help them find work
  • The Tools for your Trade program was replaced with Apprentice Loans program that leaves apprentices with a debt to pay off

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“The federal government must invest in skills and training in order to tackle rising youth unemployment.

“The government needs to deliver a plan for jobs – instead it has overseen the demise of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing industry and made it easier for employers to bring in temporary workers from overseas at the expense of local jobs.

“If the Abbott Government continues to punish young job seekers by denying them income support for six months and cutting skills and training programs, then there is a real risk a generation of young Australians will be trapped in long-term unemployment and poverty.

“The government’s Work for the Dole and Green Army schemes do not lead to long term sustainable jobs – instead of penalising young unemployed people the government needs to invest in training and skills programs and create a plan for jobs.”

France urges Abbott to meet global warming commitment

The French government is urging Australia to stick to an international commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

The appeal comes just a week before Prime Minister Tony Abbott sits down for talks with French president Francois Hollande in Paris, where climate is expected to be among the top issues discussed.
French ambassador to Australia Christophe Lecourtier told the ABC that France, which will host the pivotal UN Summit on Climate later this year, wanted Australia to put an "ambitious" commitment on the table sooner rather than later.

"Your country is a very influential country in the Asia Pacific region and you know that climate change is having tremendous consequences in the region," he said.
"We do believe Australia has a very important role to play during this conference, first of all because Australia has always been a strong promoter of the fight against climate change.
"Keeping temperature increase below two degrees in the coming years is a commitment and it's the commitment of 196 countries, so we do believe that it's the ultimate ambition for the world community if we want to leave a liveable planet for the next generation."

But it is unclear if the Federal Government remains committed to keeping long-term temperature rises below the two degree goal as agreed in Cancun in 2010.

The website for the Department of Foreign Affairs states that "governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced to ensure global temperature increases are limited to below two degrees Celsius".

However, the Federal Government's issues paper for the post 2020 targets released two weeks ago made no mention of the two degree goal.

Its Energy White Paper released last week highlighted the economic opportunities from predicted increases in fossil fuel use that the International Energy Agency forecasted could lead to a temperature increase of up to four degrees.

The Climate Action Tracker predicts that on current trends, the global mean temperature is expected to rise between 2.9 and 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

When asked by the ABC, neither the Foreign Minister nor the Environment Minister would directly respond to the question of "whether Australia remains committed to the goal of keeping long-term temperature rises below two degrees".

Government to launch first auctions of Emissions Reduction Fund

On Wednesday the Government's flagship climate policy Direct Action gets underway with the first auction of the $2.5 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

However, some analysts believe the scheme is likely to fall short of meeting Australia's 2020 targets.

Hugh Grossman from RepuTex said, at best, the scheme will get Australia halfway there.
"[As] a best case scenario we see the Emissions Reduction Fund purchasing about 50 per cent of Australia's abatement task - about 120 million tonnes - ... at worst, the ERF will purchase around 20 per cent," he said.

Former Liberal leader John Hewson does not believe that directly purchasing carbon though the ERF is the most effective and economically sound way for Australia to meet its 2020 targets.

"Basically what this policy does is pay people who should otherwise be cutting their pollution, to cut their pollution, some of the big polluters I don't think can believe their luck," he said.
"I'm an economist, I believe in the price system, obviously the price is the most efficient, most cost effective way to do it."

Dr Hewson said Australia's approach to climate policy was out of step with the international community.

"I don't think we can sustain a position as a laggard internationally when the world is going to move towards a pretty broad-based agreement by the end of this year at the Paris meeting," he said.
"I think the pressure on us to perform as a responsible part of that is going to be very significant."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Victoria Supreme Court orders freeze on Christmas Island detention facility

A freeze has been ordered on the demolition of a Christmas Island detention facility, as lawyers for a young asylum seeker claim it may contain important evidence in a class action against the Federal Government.

The girl, known only as AS, is suing the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and his department, alleging they failed to provide adequate health care and schooling opportunities for children.

At the time the class action was launched last year, the girl was six years old and Scott Morrison was the minister.

He has since moved to the Ministry of Social Services and been replaced by Peter Dutton.

Lawyers representing the child said she had been in detention for more than a year and had suffered physical and mental health issues, including separation anxiety after her mother was transferred to the Australian mainland.

They said she also suffered bed-wetting, a stammer, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression, and an ongoing dental infection.

The Government moved children off the island in December.

The class action also covers pregnant and other asylum seekers held in detention who have claimed physical or psychological injuries, and is seeking compensation as well as court orders.

Government planned 'imminent' demolition of compounds

At a directions hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court this week, lawyers for AS said they had discovered that the Government planned to demolish the Aqua and Lilac compounds on Christmas Island.

The compounds were built by the Rudd Labor government as an extension to the island's North West immigration detention centre.

The court heard its demolition was "imminent", and lawyers for the Government said a contract had been signed and entered into to demolish the compound on April 17.

My concern is the compound should not be demolished. There is a degree of urgency attached to it.

Justice Stephen Kaye

But lawyers for AS want access to the compound, among other facilities on the island, to assist their case in determining if it had a bearing on the psychological state of their client.

They told the court "the battlelines were drawn" by a letter from authorities "indicating inspection would only be allowed with a number of conditions".

Lawyers for the plaintiff said the conditions were "unacceptable" and included that they not take any photographs of Christmas Island detention facilities, and give authorities at least two weeks' notice of any intention to visit.

Justice Stephen Kaye said he was persuaded the compound had "sufficient relevance" to the case to order a hold on its destruction.

"My concern is the compound should not be demolished," Justice Stephen Kaye said.

"There is a degree of urgency attached to it.

"I will make an order restraining the defendant from demolishing the Lilac Aqua compound, pending the hearing and determination of the application."