Sunday, May 31, 2015

ACRS: Reef scientists report

Australia’s leading coral reef scientists have called for huge coalmining and port developments in Queensland to be scrapped in order to avoid “permanent damage” to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Coral Reef Society (ACRS) report, compiled by experts from five Australian universities and submitted to the United Nations, warns that “industrialising the Great Barrier Reef coastline will cause further stress to what is already a fragile ecosystem.”

The report notes that nine proposed mines in the Galilee Basin, in central Queensland, will produce coal that will emit an estimated 705m tonnes of carbon dioxide at capacity – making the Galilee Basin region the seventh largest source of emissions in the world when compared to countries. 

Climate change, driven by excess emissions, has been cited as the leading long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Corals bleach and die as water warms and struggle to grow as oceans acidify.

“ACRS believe that a broad range of policies should be urgently put in place as quickly as possible to reduce Australia’s record high per capita carbon emissions to a much lower level,” the report states.

“Such policies are inconsistent with opening new fossil fuel industries like the mega coalmines of the Galilee Basin. Doing so would generate significant climate change that will permanently damage the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef.”

The warning follows the unveiling of a long-term plan to reverse the reef’s decline on Saturday. The strategy, which outlines cuts in pollution flowing onto the reef but sets out no additional action to curb emissions, was hailed by Tony Abbott as evidence that the government was “utterly committed” to the reef’s preservation. 

In the ACRS report, the scientists urge a rethink on associated plans to expand the Abbot Point port, near the town of Bowen as well as calling for a halt to the Galilee Basin mines, which have broad support from the Queensland and federal governments.

The expansion would make Abbot Point one of the largest coal ports in the world, requiring the dredging of 5m tonnes of seabed to facilitate a significant increase in shipping through the reef.

The report warns dredging will have “substantial negative impacts on surrounding seagrass, soft corals and other macroinvertebrates, as well as turtles, dugongs and other megafauna.” Research has shown that coral disease can double in areas close to dredging activity.

The port expansion will also increase the amount of coal dust blowing onto the reef and the risk of shipping strikes upon whales and dugongs, the report states.

Sediment dredged from Abbot Point was initially earmarked to be dumped within the reef’s waters, but following a request from Unesco, an alternate onshore plan was devised. 

Dr Selina Ward, a reef scientist at the University of Queensland and co-author of the report, said the high-profile campaign around the sediment dumping obscured the more pressing threats to the reef. 

“The dumping of the dredge spoil is important but it’s not the whole story,” she said. “We have the huge background threat of climate change and going ahead with the industrialisation of the coastline just doesn’t sit well with that.

“The dredging involves the removal of seagrass beds and it creates sediment plumes that move large distances and cut light out to corals, which need photosynthesis for energy.

“If we have a 2C rise in the world’s temperature we’ll have bleaching events far more frequently. The outlook really is grim for the reef, but we still have time to turn it around.”

Ward said she hoped the report would spur international pressure on Australia to scale back the mines and port. The report will be send to advisors to Unesco’s world heritage committee, which will decide whether to officially list the reef as “in danger” in June.

“I don’t want to see the Great Barrier Reef listed as in danger, that would be terrible for Australia,” Ward said. “I hope the government understands what is at stake. We can have these mines and this port or we can have a healthy reef. We really can’t have both.”

Saturday, May 30, 2015

One in five migrant workers in Australia on 457 visas underpaid

One in five migrant workers in Australia on 457 visas could be underpaid or employed in jobs they should not be doing, workplace audits show.

Nationwide monitoring by the Fair Work Ombudsman has uncovered suspected exploitation in the cases of 20 per cent of 560 migrant workers examined between October and January.

The release of the review comes after the Senate this month launched a landmark investigation into visa fraud, following allegations of the exploitation and abuse of migrants under the 457 and 417 working-holiday schemes.

Earlier this week, immigration officers swooped on businesses and homes nationwide in a large-scale crackdown on illegal work visas.

The Fair Work Ombudsman's latest monthly audit reports have identified more than 100 incidents of migrant workers being underpaid in some cases tens of thousands of dollars or not performing jobs in line with their visa requirements.

More than 100 cases have been referred to the Immigration Department for further investigation, while the Ombudsman has launched independent investigations into two cases for violations of the Fair Work Act.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said migrant workers' complaints of mistreatment had soared in recent years, and sponsorship breaches were often deliberate acts of exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

"Matters involving visa-holders are often serious and wilful non-compliance, warranting the most serious of enforcement responses," she said.

Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash said a wide-ranging federal government review last year found there had not been rampant rorting of the 457 visa program, contrary to claims by Labor.

She said the latest statistics from the Fair Work Ombudsman constituted the initial reports that were referred to the Immigration Department for action, and did not represent a "finding of fact" on employer wrongdoing.

The government takes visa violations extremely seriously, she said, but employers and labour hire companies flouting the law were a small minority.

"Reports of significant rorting of the 457 visa program are completely unfounded and based on a misrepresentation of the data provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman," Senator Cash said.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon, however, said the latest figures brought into focus the mistreatment of many migrants in Australian workplaces, and renewed calls for migrant workers to be given the vote.

"When workers are not paid the salary they were supposed to be paid, when they are not given the job they were promised they are being exploited. When employers cannot be located or when they refuse to provide information to the authorities there is an abuse of the system at play," he said.

"Only when they have political representation will the government acknowledge there is a problem with the visa system and investigate it properly."

Migrants on work visas have become a major focus for the Fair Work Ombudsman, Ms James said, with visa-holders now accounting for one in every 10 calls to the agency for assistance.

"In the past three years, the agency has dealt with over 6000 requests for assistance from visa holders," Ms James said.

"We have recovered more than $4 million in outstanding wages and entitlements for them."

Cases involving visa workers make up one third of the agency's current legal action for workplace law violations, which Ms James said illustrated the seriousness of many complaints.

Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor condemned the government's plans to relax regulations for bringing in foreign workers, including allowing specialists to stay for up to a year on a short-term visa, instead of toughening the rules.

Unions urge Victorian Family Violence Royal Commission to recommend domestic violence leave

29 May 2015

The Victorian Government should support domestic violence leave as a workplace entitlement to help tackle the scourge of family violence.

The ACTU has lodged a submission to the Victorian Family Violence Royal Commission endorsing and supporting the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s submission that domestic violence leave should be available for all workers.

Having access to domestic violence leave means victims have time to attend court appearances and related appointments, seek legal advice and make relocation arrangements.

It helps an employee experiencing family violence keep their job and maintain financial independence, which is critical for women trying to escape a violent relationship.

The ACTU currently has a claim before the Fair Work Commission to give more than four million workers covered by an award access to ten days paid domestic violence leave for permanent staff and ten days unpaid leave for casuals.

The ACTU claim was endorsed by domestic violence campaigner and Australian of the Year Rosie Batty at the 2015 ACTU Congress earlier this week.

Australian Unions commend the Victorian State Government for taking steps to tackle the problem of family violence through its Royal Commission.

Key facts:

  • 39 women in Australia have been killed by their male partner so far this year
  • Domestic violence costs the Australian economy $16.8 billion each year
  • Over 1.6 million employees now have access to paid domestic violence leave in union negotiated workplace agreements

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“Domestic violence is a whole of society issue and that includes the workplace and employers. We all need to tackle this issue together.

“Having a job and financial stability is critical for women to escape a violent and abusive relationship.

“By providing domestic violence leave employers are helping send the message that family violence must not be tolerated or swept under the carpet.

“Unions urge the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence to advocate for domestic violence leave as a workplace entitlement to help women keep their jobs and maintain financial independence as they escape a violent relationship.”

AMA Conference - "co-payments by stealth"

The Australian Medical Association has used its annual national conference in Brisbane to take another swipe at the government, in the group’s campaign against a four-year indexation freeze on the rebate Medicare pays doctors.

The AMA president, Brian Owler, used his opening address on Friday to call for both sides of politics to lift the “damaging” freeze which could force GPs to start passing costs on to their patients, amounting to a so-called co-payment by stealth.

He reminded delegates of the AMA’s success in bringing down the government’s previous attempts at introducing a GP co-payment.

“We swung into campaign mode and GPs across the country galvanised into action,” he said.

Owler says the freeze will affect the viability of practices, making it hard for GPs to invest in new staff or equipment, and potentially forcing them to pass costs on to patients.

The freeze, which also affects specialists, could result in higher private health insurance premiums, he said.

“I don’t think the government understood the consequences of the indexation freeze, particularly in relation to private health insurance rates,” Owler told reporters in Brisbane.

“As that becomes more evident, I’m very hopeful the freeze will be lifted.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unions endorse $13 million campaign ahead of election

27 May 2015

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver  ACTU Congress  Congress 2015  Strategic plan
Around a thousand union delegates from around Australia have voted unanimously in support of a new $13 million plan to transform the ACTU into a permanent campaigning organisation at the triennial ACTU Congress in Melbourne today.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver presented the plan to target around 30 marginal seats across the country with grass roots campaigning to be coordinated by 20 new staff employed by the ACTU.

The transformation of the ACTU into a permanent campaigning organisation will allow unions to campaign online, on the ground, politically and in the workplace on specific issues that matter to working people and that fit under a new union charter launched at the Congress.

The Union Charter is based around six key issues - workers rights, universal healthcare, the highest quality education, public services owned by everyone for the benefit of everyone, a secure retirement and a fair go for all that requires everyone to pay their fair share of tax.

ACTU polling released on Monday in the six key marginal seats of Corangamite (Vic), Page (NSW), Hindmarsh (SA), Leichhardt (Qld), Braddon (Tas) and Swan (WA) showed the majority of Coalition voters in those seats did not believe the Abbott Government had a plan to create jobs in their area.

The polling also showed the majority of voters believed the Abbott Government would make more cuts to health and education and that the Federal Budget did nothing to protect the living standards of working families.

These are some of the issues the ACTU and unions around the country will be campaigning on in the lead up to the coming state, territory and federal elections.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver:

“The union movement is at its strongest when we are united and campaigning together.

“This will be a permanent change to make the ACTU a campaigning organisation that will help coordinate both large national campaigns and union or seat specific campaigns.

“We’ll be campaigning online, on the ground, politically and in the workplace.  We’ll be having one-one conversation with members and the community about the issues that matter to them – whether it’s jobs, health and education or a secure retirement.

“If there’s an early election we’ll be ready but this is about unions campaigning on the issues that matter to working people permanently, regardless of who is in government.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Budget Summary - Support Gonski on Public Education Day, 28 May 2015

By NSW Teachers Federation 20 May 2015

Education has low priority in the Abbott Government’s 2015 Budget.
The only significant education investments are existing initiatives inherited from the previous Labor Government, 15 hours early childhood education, the disability loading and school funding growth contained in the first four Gonski years.
Schools funding
School funding will decline in real terms after 2017 when the Abbott Government’s commitment to Gonski lapses.
Indexing by CPI, rather than by the Gonski growth rate of 4.7%, will result in a real funding cut.
This decline will be exacerbated by the winding down of School education specific funding. This is funding targeted at disadvantage and educational priorities through National Partnerships and other support measures. By 2018/19 only three National Partnerships will remain.
By 2018 there will be virtually no Commonwealth education funding targeted at poor and disadvantaged students
Disability funding
There is no additional funding to help schools meet the needs of all students with a disability. In fact there is less as the Support for Students with Disabilities National Partnership is one of the first to be wound up at the end of this financial year.
VET funding to the states will decline in real terms.
Training costs will be shifted from government and onto students. The VET sector will be the main driver of growth in overall student debt.
Universal Access to Early Childhood
Funding to continue this Labor initiative is only guaranteed to 2017.

ACTU: Dave Oliver and Ged Kearney re-elected

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver and President Ged Kearney have been re-elected unopposed at the union movement’s Congress in Melbourne today.

Mr Oliver pledged to strengthen the ACTU’s capacity to campaign on the issues that affect Australian workers.

This includes stopping the Abbott Government’s agenda to undermine workers’ rights and living standards via:

  • The Productivity Commission review into workplace relations, which puts all workplace rights, penalty rates and the minimum wage up for grabs.
  • The Fair Work Amendment Bill that seeks to take away protections around individual contracts, gives an employer veto over industrial action and makes it harder for workers to be represented by their union at work.
  • Freezing increases to the Superannuation Guarantee that will see a 25-year-old on average earnings, over their working life, have $100,000 less when they retire.

ACTU President Ged Kearney and ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick were also re-elected unopposed.

Scott Connolly from the Transport Workers Union was elected as a new Assistant Secretary.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver:

“The union movement is at its strongest when we stand together and campaign on issues that affect working Australians.

“Whether it’s the business lobby trying to cut penalty rates or the Abbott Government trying to take away rights at work – unions will not stand by while the living standards of millions of Australians are under attack.

“There is a passion across the union movement to ensure that the rights we have fought so hard for are protected.”

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“I look forward to working with Dave for another three years to advance the union movement’s agenda to help improve the living standards of Australian workers.

“As a movement, we are at our best when we and united as one.”

ACTU: Unions a permanent campaigning force

The trade union movement should be a permanent campaigning force, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver says.

At the start of the council's triennial gathering in Melbourne on Tuesday, Mr Oliver conceded it was a significant mistake to dismantle the successful anti-Work Choices campaign infrastructure.

"As long as I'm here, we will not make that mistake again," he told delegates, while insisting unions were ready to fight for living standards in the lead-up to next federal election.

Mr Oliver said lessons have been learnt since the 'Your Rights at Work' campaign, which helped defeat the Howard government.

It was wrong to dismantle the campaigning infrastructure, which had been built up over many years, after the 2007 election, he admitted.

"We literally went from overnight from being a campaigning movement to a transactional movement."

The ACTU's strategic plan in the lead-up to the next federal election will be about not only building campaigning capacity, but keeping it, he said.

Mr Oliver, who formally put himself forward for a second term as secretary, urged congress to back the strategy.

It will include an increase in affiliation fees to help build a multi-million dollar war chest.

He urged delegates and their unions to come together to fight for workers' rights and against the Abbott government's royal commission into trade unions and productivity commission inquiry into workplace relations.

President Ged Kearney, who is also seeking re-election, said the social wage was again under threat, like it was in 2007.

"Isn't it funny how history repeats itself," she told the gathering.

It was time to commit to building a strong campaigning infrastructure, Ms Kearney added.

New ACOSS report confirms Budget fails fairness test

Saturday May 23, 2015

A new report released today by the Australian Council of Social Service shows that, by keeping most of the 2014 savings measures and delivering new cuts, the 2015 Budget would strip an estimated $15 billion over four years from basic services and supports, with total projected cuts of $80 billion from health and schools funding to the States over the next decade.
“Last year’s devastating Federal Budget casts a long shadow that undermines some advances made in this year’s Budget,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. “There is a fair alternative path to budget repair – including through structural tax reform - but unfortunately the best options have been ruled out by the Government in advance of the taxation review.
“While ACOSS welcomed the $3.5 billion new investment in early childhood education and care and a more sensible road to pension reform, the overall Budget fails the fairness test because it delivers an estimated $15 billion in spending cuts, with new cuts to child dental and community health programs in this Budget on top of retained savings from the last Budget.
“It is disappointing that the Government appears to be retreating from its commitment to pursue comprehensive tax reform, which is vital to provide the revenue future Governments will need for essential services. People on modest incomes will pay for inaction on tax reform when they need health care, to send their children to school, lose their jobs or retire.
“This year’s Budget not only failed to reverse the severe cuts to payments and programs from the previous budget, but directly linked unfair changes to family payments to new spending on child care in the current Budget. The cut to Family Tax Benefit Part B to single income families with children over six years would result in income losses of $49 per week for single parent families or more for those with older children. This cut will have dire consequences, particularly when taken together with the freezing of family payments indexation - a condition for the new investment in child care - given that a third of sole parent families are already living in poverty.
The combined impact of the two budgets includes the following cuts totalling $15B  which disproportionately impact on low income people:
  • $126 million cut from child dental programs
  • $1 billion cut in health funding
  • $6 billion cuts to family payments
  • $1.8 billion, increasing to a total combined $80 billion over 10 years, for hospitals and education
  • $1 billion in cuts to vital community services for the people in greatest need around the country, such as those experiencing financial crisis or family breakdown, children at risk, vulnerable young people, new mothers and babies, people facing eviction and homelessness, carers in need of respite, those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and those with mental health problems, including $500 million from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and programs;
  • $674 million from affordable housing and homelessness programs
  • $4.5 billion, being the combined effect of cuts linked to the MBS and PBS, social security changes, state concessions, and other measures.  
In stark contrast, the government has made only modest efforts to raise revenue through fair changes to taxation, and the only significant measure is temporary:
  • $3.1 billion Temporary Deficit Levy
  • $295 million capping of meal and entertainment benefits
  • $845 million tightening of car expenses
"The Government now proposes to reduce the six month wait for unemployment payments for young people to one month, yet neither policy has been justified, especially at a time when unemployment is rising. The modest investment in school to work transition programs is welcome but proposed reductions to youth payments should be withdrawn."

“ACOSS is also concerned by misleading information contained in the Budget papers about the level of assistance being received by some disadvantaged families.  A budget table comparing the disposable incomes of different households inflates those of low income families by including child care fee assistance, without factoring in the costs of care. The result is to overestimate the disposable income of a single parent family with 2 children and private earnings of $30,000 by over $16,000. There can be no doubt that this family of three whose disposable income is actually $49,994 needs income support to keep their children out of poverty.
“While this Budget cemented the damaging cuts that will harm people on the lowest incomes, it took little action to strengthen public revenue. We are mystified as to why the government would rule out changes to unfair tax concessions for superannuation and indicate little appetite for reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax, after announcing a review of taxation with 'everything on the table'. A lack of action on the revenue side guarantees that future governments will have no option but to cut more deeply into health and community services or ramp up user charges for essential services.
“This Budget also failed to drive the necessary reforms to improve housing affordability and access to universal services or to drive investment in the jobs and industries of the future. We are particularly disturbed that the Government failed to take steps to address the serious gaps in our social safety net including the low rate of allowance payments and the inadequate indexation of allowances and family payments (which are still indexed to the CPI only).
“The retention of most of the 2014 budget cuts and lack of action to strengthen public revenue tips the scale on the negative side of the fairness ledger as it effectively means that the most disadvantaged and struggling individuals and families in our community are being asked to shoulder the responsibility for restoring the Budget,” Dr Goldie said.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stupidity of Abbott and Hockey

The paid parental leave debacle now consuming an otherwise soft and friction-free budget, is testament to the stubbornness of ageing white men and to the durability of their ideas, even really bad ones.

When the all-male Expenditure Review Committee members huffed their scornful reproach and conspired to nail greedy mothers involved in welfare "fraud", as Hockey readily agreed it was, it eluded their lofty wisdom that (a) this was egregious nonsense (b) their policy shift contradicted a core value to which the Prime Minister - no less - was thoroughly welded, and (c) some of their own wives had taken maternity leave from their employers, and the basic federal government scheme of $11,500 over 18 weeks. Oops.

The stupidity of Abbott and Hockey now paring back entitlements are too numerous to list, but include that right up until months ago, they had wanted to pay $75,000 for six months to wealthier mothers – non means-tested. It was Abbott's "signature" policy remember – specifically confected to fix his "women problem". How's that looking now? Hockey had been its next most enthusiastic proponent. Both had argued it was an employment entitlement akin to annual leave and thus an inalienable right. Once a bitter opponent of paid parental leave (over my dead body) Abbott became unstoppable - a born-again zealot intent on staring down colleagues after foisting it on them without consultation.  

Now he's changed again. New mothers seeking way less than his extravagant scheme would have paid out, are morally, if not legally crook, and their employers, scammers if they offer back-to-work incentive bonuses for their valued employees.

Bill Shorten nailed the hypocrisy when he said Labor had legislated a minimum entitlement, and the Coalition had now made it the new maximum.

Surely the abiding lesson for the Abbott government from the 2014 cascade, is that if you are going to back down from harsh or ill-conceived ideas, do it quickly. 

Why mess about for a year defending the indefensible if in the end you're going to retreat anyway? Why weather sustained public opprobrium as well as the embarrassment of the backdown?

Privately, Liberal MPs mostly know where this is headed. And they know the compound damage of 2014 came from their leaders' refusal to dump the GP-copayment, the pension cuts, the defence pay cut, the higher education research grant cut, changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and others, long after they had become politically untenable.

That's the lesson of 2014. Bad arguments don't become more convincing through repetition. Quite the opposite.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

CFMEU officials seeking legal advice over bullying by AFP

May 18, 2015

The ACT branch of the CFMEU construction union has sought legal advice claiming their officials are being bullied and intimidated by Australian Federal Police officers.

A spokesman for ACT Policing confirmed two general duties officers attended an office in Dickson on Friday, but would not make further comment on the matter.

CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall said the officers approached three union officials on Friday morning and proposed they be interviewed on video about potential charges relating to trespass.

The allegations come three weeks after construction union officials claim they were intimidated on a building site in Turner by between 10 and 12 AFP officers, who forced them to leave the site.

Mr Hall said CFMEU officials were investigating serious safety breaches at the Turner site. Soon after being invited onto the site, the police were called and they arrived immediately.

"The AFP is making it a number one priority to intervene on behalf of builders to stop our legal right of entry," Mr Hall said.

"They're trying to intimidate us. They're trying to get us caught up in legal action to waste our time, using tax payers money to entangle the union in multiple cases with their infinite resources.

"It's a tactic of trying to burn us and take away our resources. The tactic is to wear us down."

He said while it wasn't the first time police officers had shown up on a site where the CFMEU was investigating safety breaches, it was the first time police officers had overridden the union's right of entry.

"We have a legal right to enter any site in the ACT if they believe there is a reasonable contravention of the act.

"When did the AFP become some expert on safe building practise? They're becoming the adjudicator of what is safe and unsafe on a construction site."

Mr Hall said the site in Turner had obvious safety breaches occurring, and the builder had a poor safety record.

 "They're protecting the interests of the wealthy over the workers. There will be blood on their hands if anything happens," Mr Hall said.

Australian science is no better off after the 2015 budget

For science, the 2015 federal budget is merely a continuation of 2014. The damage that was done has not been undone.

The same threats and uncertainty continue. Behind all the hollow words of support, there is no substantial recognition of the value of science for the knowledge that it brings, for its role as a driving force of economic growth and innovation, or for the empowerment that it gives to individuals to understand and shape a 21st-century future for themselves.

As Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, has pointed out, almost every OECD country has a plan for the strategic growth of its scientific enterprise and to facilitate its translation into technology, innovation and economic development. Every country, that is, except Australia and Portugal.

Australia, instead, will bank the nation’s long-term prosperity on a boost to small business spending on items under A$20,000 encouraged by some tax breaks.

The wrangles around the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) – the A$2 billion system of national research facilities – is symptomatic of the gaps in the government’s understanding of science, how it works, and the impact of decisions on it.

Prior to the 2015 budget, it took a concerted public campaign to bring home the level of destruction that the government was about to unleash by apparently regarding NCRIS funding as a tool for brinkmanship.

All very Yes Minister

Following the budget, the price of a mere two-year extension of funding was revealed as a A$300 million cut to university research block grants. This is a version of the Yes Minister comedy in which the hospital is built but no patients admitted. We have saved our research infrastructure by cutting the funds that support its use, in a form of budget cannibalism.

And does the government really think that the highly skilled staff on which NCRIS relies, having been roused by the spectre of a near-death experience, will stick around to see what will happen in two years time? The global mobility of expertise is a hallmark of the 21st-century global economy. Some prompt action will be required following the NCRIS review to avert this new form of brain drain.

The past two budgets seem to be channelling a commonly held but misguided view that basic science research is a luxury that can be cut back in hard times. But what about the translation of science research into innovation and economic growth? For most developed countries this is an imperative. For Australia, with the collapse of its mining income, you would have thought it even more critical.

The government, through its minister for science, claims that the 2015 budget reflects a strategic aim to “create stronger connections between research and industry and maximise Australia’s competitiveness”.

This is an extraordinary statement from a government that has not only slashed funding to the CSIRO over the past two years, but cut its key university-industry program, the Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) program, by A$80 million in 2014 – or around 20% – and then a further A$27 million in 2015.

One is tempted to ask what the government knows about the forthcoming CRC review that we don’t. Will it really be saying that 25% of what the CRCs were doing was not needed? That would be a brave call, indeed one might say a “courageous” call.

The need for engagement

Australia is recognised, on all available comparative data, to have one of the worst levels of engagement in the world between science research and industry.

Given the need to transform the economy following the collapse in mining, if there were any efficiencies available you’d imagine that a strategic government would invest them in facilitating this engagement. The CRC program certainly isn’t the only avenue available for that. It’s just that the 2014/15 and 2015/16 budgets reduced funding to all the other schemes as well.

In politics, scientists are urged to be statesperson-like, play the game and talk to such positives as can be found in the latest two budgets. Indeed there are those who have risen to that call, praising small mercies through clenched teeth.

But the message for science from these budgets has to be that we’re on our own. Both the budgets and budget replies show the paucity of understanding and strategic thinking in regard to science.

The public and the politicians don’t get a very strategic view of science. It is a bionic eye, a cure for cancer, a new exoplanet, quantum computers, nanomaterials etc. Science doesn’t make such a big thing about its synergies with engineering and IT, with the social sciences or with business and innovation. It somewhat takes these connections for granted.

The Chief Scientist, in his discussion papers and allied initiatives, gives these connections a central place. He focuses on the broader role of STEM and its relationship with and benefits for Australian society, its education system and the economy.

It is this kind of vision, rather than particular areas of research, that will build priority for science in the minds of the public and politicians. Perhaps these last two budgets will be an inspiration for scientists to put more energy into this task. Clearly no-one else will do it for us.

ACTU: Royal Commission proves its political stripes again

19 May 2015

The Trade Union Royal Commission has again proved it is a political operation designed to push the government’s agenda by releasing a discussion paper to the media before its public release.

This Royal Commission has no claim to independence, impartiality or adherence to transparent due process.

Reports today suggest that the Royal Commission’s discussion paper recommends various news laws that align closely with Liberal Party policies including undemocratic ‘move on’ laws that have been supported by the Liberal Party but rejected by the electorate and those in the Registered Organisations Bill just recently rejected by Commonwealth Senate.

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.”

Budget forecast woes ahead

One day on, the budget forecasts are looking frayed.

The Bureau of Statistics reported on Wednesday that wage growth had slipped to a new long-term low of 2.3 per cent. The rate is the lowest this century and well below the budget forecast of 2.5 per cent in this and the next financial years, climbing to 2.75 per cent in 2016-17.

Unless the growth rate lifts, estimates of tax revenue will have to be revised down. The budget papers say weaker than expected wage growth in the past six months "significantly downgraded expected tax receipts".

Tom Kennedy of JP Morgan described the pace as "glacial" and noted that wage growth had decelerated in 10 of the past 11 quarters. Katie Hill of the ANZ Bank said wage growth was "set to remain low in coming years".

Wage growth decelerated in all but two of the 18 industry groups identified by the ABS.

The budget expects interest payments on government debt to climb by just 6.5 per cent in the year ahead, even though debt itself will climb 10.9 per cent. The slower increase is the result of much lower interest rates and an assumption that they will stay low in the decade ahead.

But the budget documents reveals the rate used to generate the forecasts is already outdated.

The budget assumed the 10-year bond rate would stay at 2.5 per cent, a low reached about four weeks ago when the assumptions were chosen. Since then the 10-year bond rate has climbed to 2.9 per cent.

The documents reveal that if a rate of 2.9 per cent had been chosen, public debt interest costs would have been $1.1 billion higher by 2018-19 and $2.1 billion higher by 2025-26.

The next national accounts due on June 3 will provide an insight into the budget's forecasts for economic growth. They are 0.25 per cent higher than those of the Reserve Bank.

The bank has forecast an economic growth rate of 2.5 per cent in 2015-16 while the budget has forecast 2.75 per cent followed by 3.25 per cent in 2016-17.

Abbott poll position still uncertain

Recent polls suggest Abbott has successfully papered over those cracks in credibility and not all in his party room are convinced the paper will hold. It’s the next weeks and months that will be critical.

“He’s not out of the woods yet,” was a common view of backbenchers worried about their seats.

As far as Trade Minister Andrew Robb is concerned, they are too pessimistic. He says he didn’t need a poll to know the budget hit the mark.

An analysis of the Newspoll shows Joe Hockey’s outing on the second Tuesday in May went a long way to impress the restive base vote.

Among people over 50, those earning more than $90,000, and men, he has many admirers. But not enough to put the Coalition back in the winners’ circle just yet. Labor saw a jump in its position to a two-party lead of 53 to 47 per cent.

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll, true to its history of volatility, has a 50-50 line ball result.

Poling analyst Andrew Catsaras says the aggregate of the four polls has Labor in front, 52-48.

A closer look at Newspoll shows the biggest chunk of people, 40 per cent, have shrugged their shoulders. The task is now to inspire more confidence in them.

That will be no easy job. It’s one thing to offer middle- and upper-income families a generous package of subsidised child care, it’s another to pay for it with $3.5 billion coming from cuts in payments to lower-income families.

It is not only Labor and the Greens who won’t buy it in the Senate. Six of the eight crossbench senators are still to be convinced.

A separate campaign against the cuts is being run inside the party room by LNP senator Matt Canavan from Queensland and Zed Seselja, a conservative Liberal from the ACT. They claim they already have 15 colleagues on side.

It certainly won’t all be plain sailing for captain Abbott.

Then there’s the little matter of the budget’s growth forecasts holding. Let alone the credible path back to surplus.

Another deficit blow out would be more than embarrassing.

Economists aren’t the only ones sceptical. It’s being cited by some Libs as a reason Mr Abbott may want an election before next year’s budget passes judgement on this year’s concoction.

UNions NSW: Jeff Shaw Memorial Lecture 11 June 2015

The Union Movement has a proud history of attracting and developing social justice heroes who have helped light the path to a more equal just and fair society. The late Jeff Shaw Q.C is one of these heroes who contributed to this legacy of justice through his work constructing the NSW Industrial Relations Act that covers thousands of workers in NSW.

You are invited along to this year’s Annual Jeff Shaw Memorial Lecture which will be presented by Phillip Boutlen S.C on Thursday June 11th at Trades Hall.

There will be refreshments and finger food available after the event in the atrium.

To RSVP please contact Mary O’Donoghue – 9881 5999 by close of business Monday 8th June or you can confirm here (

In Unity,

Mark Lennon
Unions NSW

Saturday, May 16, 2015


CPSU: MAY 15, 2015

Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support staff will kick off a week of rolling public service industrial action at 11.30am on Monday 18 May, with a series of one-hour stop work meetings.

The action is designed to highlight growing anger about Abbott Government attacks on public service workplace rights and employment conditions.

As well as stopping work and imposing a range of internal work bans, union members in DHS will also distribute 1.5 million flyers to clients outlining their concerns.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “Public sector workers don’t take industrial action lightly but they have been pushed to this point by a belligerent government that has cut 17,300 jobs and is now intent on attacking the living standards, pay and conditions of 160,000 public servants.

"The deals this Government are offering across the public service are so draconian no one could accept them.

“Workers are being asked to cop a massive cut to rights and conditions, in return for low annual pay offers of between 0% and 1% a year that leave real wages going backwards.

“No major private sector employer in Australia is making such nasty offers.

“You can learn a lot about a Government by the way it treats its own staff. This one has launched a vicious attack on its employees. And now, a year later, the Government is refusing to sit down and talk about a more sensible way forward."

"Public servants in the Tax Office took action last week and thousands of CPSU members in agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology, Agriculture, Defence, Veterans Affairs and Employment will be holding similar one-hour stoppages throughout the week.

Meanwhile agencies including ABS, Customs and Immigration are also preparing or taking industrial action in protest at Government plans to cut conditions in return for low-ball pay offers.

Bad news for women – and us all

SMH – Sam Crosby

The government was wrong to drop Women's Budget Statements, which had fostered roles for women in our economic prosperity.

Following on from the first Keating budget in 1984, and in every budget since, the federal government has released a "Women's Budget Statement", to provide information about the budget's contribution to progress towards gender equality.

That 30-year-old bipartisan convention ended when the Abbott government decided not to release the statement for each of its last two budgets. I'm not sure if you can blame them though, following this year's budget it would have been nothing more than a shame-faced apology to half the population.

The first statement was developed by Dr Anne Summers who was the head of prime minister Bob Hawke's Office of the Status of Women. They're as important both socially and economically now as they were then because they help governments measure and track important issues that can help boost productivity and increase GDP. Something that everyone would benefit from. But, if you're not measuring these areas, you don't know you're falling behind until it's too late.

The Howard government understood this importance and although it changed the title and structure of these statements it kept producing them and even used them to promote what it'd been doing in the area of gender equality.

Following Prime Minister Tony Abbott's election the statements stopped. This is worrying on multiple levels but not least because it was Abbott who once said that equal representation for women was not possible because their "aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons".

It's more worrying because none of us should doubt that it was never more sorely needed. Absolutely pivotal to the success of women's participation in our democracy as productive individuals is the provision of adequate childcare and parental-leave entitlements. No one would question that the greatest impediment to women's ability to achieve equal outcomes with men financially is the burden of childbirth.

How sad it was to see Joe Hockey agree that the use of private and public schemes of parental leave was basically "fraud"and an act of "double dipping" when you consider that the public scheme was designed as a supplement to employer-provided leave when first implemented by the Gillard government. Sad, too, is the short-sightedness of the government in not anticipating that, as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned, employers will respond by getting rid of their own schemes and, in the process, denying the government the $1 billion in savings it anticipates.

At the beginning of their working lives, women outperform men, academically, with a greater proportion reaching and completing year 12 and undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. And yet, at the other end of their working lives, women are poorly placed to fund their retirements with 38 per cent having no superannuation savings and the median superannuation accumulated, for those who have some, at $17,225.

Somewhere in the middle of that long journey, we are neglecting an enormously talented group, who when questioned about feeling rushed and pressured for time report that they shoulder a greater share of the caring burden than their male partners by a significant margin. The Women's Budget Statements were introduced in the same year as the Sex Discrimination Act, and both have contributed enormously to the participation of Australian women in our nation's economic prosperity.

But it is now clear that that this greater level of participation is placing a toll on family responsibilities and the need for childcare and parental leave must be given greater emphasis so that women can realise the promise they should expect from their academic performances and then earn more and retire with more.

Nothing betrays an ignorance of the lost potential women can provide to Australian society – with greater and darker irony – than the Abbott government releasing the details of these cruel cuts to parental leave on the one day we set aside each year to honour them as mothers.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Unions NSW: You Call That Fairness Joe?

This week the Abbott-Hockey Government have handed down their second budget and we are sorry to say it’s not a pretty sight for working families.

Sign the petition to reverse the cuts to Paid Parental Leave.

Far from being ‘Responsible, Measured and Fair’, Joe Hockey’s budget further cements the future starvation of our schools and hospitals by locking in last year’s $80 billion cuts to health and education.

This can only mean fewer hospital beds, longer waiting times and the further decimation of community health and services.

And it doesn’t end there. The Abbott Government is also attempting the unthinkable by ripping away the federally funded Paid Parental Leave entitlement to over half of Australian parents who already have an employer funded scheme.

This is a complete back-flip from Tony Abbott’s pre-election commitment to government funded Paid Parental Leave that would have seen parents receive support of up to $75,000. Now families face the prospect of being $11,500 worse off.

Will you sign the petition and call on Abbott to reverse the cuts to Paid Parental Leave?

The current government scheme was designed to be in addition to any employer entitlement in order to allow six months bonding time with newborns (which experts support).

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are effectively ripping the heart out of Australian homes by forcing parents back into work at a critical stage in their newborn babies’ lives.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the government also wants to cut billions in family support payments that will see an average family with two children lose up to $6000 a year.

This is not the society we want to live in. It's our children, our elderly, our sick and vulnerable who will have to pay the price.

Sign the petition to maintain the universality of our Paid Parental Leave scheme and tell Tony Abbott, in his capacity as Minister for Women, that we deserve better than back-flips, lip-service and lies.

In unity,

The Unions NSW Team

P.S. Our Bust the Budget campaigning ensured some nasty measures from last year were dropped. We beat things like the GP co-payment, cuts to indexation of the pension and the six month wait for Newstart for young jobseekers has been pared back to four weeks. While these are significant wins we must stand strong in the face of adversity. The Abbott Government is still trying to push through University deregulation that will force young students into life long debt and the new child care package is being held to ransom based on regressive measures passing the Senate.The fight doesn’t end here. Our community campaigned against the deeply unpopular 2014 budget and we’ll fight this one all the way too.

UK: Fire Brigade Union on Anti Cuts Demonstration (26 March)

ACTU: Budget fail – no jobs, no growth, no opportunity

12 May 2015

If the Abbott Government’s plan to create jobs is a $5 billion company tax cut – then it has no plans for jobs.

The government has made the $5.5 billion Jobs and Small Business Package the centrepiece of the federal budget – yet $5 billion of that package is a tax cut for small businesses that will save the average small business no more than $20,000 a year – not enough to hire new staff.

Ironically, despite selling this budget as a budget for jobs, the Government is still forecasting unemployment to stay above 6 per cent for the next three years.

The Abbott Government has also forecast economic growth to increase to 3.25 per cent by 2016-17 but there are no initiatives in the budget to increase productivity, with no new money for research and innovation – only cuts.

Instead of helping Australians find long-term jobs, the Abbott Government is continuing to punish unemployed people with a “reinvigorated” Work For The Dole program – a program that has been shown not to create long term, sustainable jobs.

With unemployment at or above 6 per cent for the past eleven months, the Abbott Government should have used this budget to invest in infrastructure, skills and training, and the public service to create jobs and boost the economy.

Instead the government has tied childcare assistance to unfair cuts to family benefits and paid parental leave, cut almost one billion dollars from health and missed the opportunity to boost budget revenue by reforming super tax concessions for the wealthy.

There is no new money for major road infrastructure projects and the new $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility is reliant on state government and private industry investment.

This budget is a missed opportunity from a government more concerned about keeping its own jobs than creating new jobs for Australians.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

“If the government’s plan to create jobs is a $5 billion company tax cut – then it has no plans for jobs.

“The government is selling this as a budget for jobs but has forecast unemployment to stay above 6 per cent for the next three years.

“Tony Abbott is taking more out of the pockets of working people and their families than he is putting in.

“Australian families will be worse off under this budget with cuts to paid parental leave and family tax benefits that are far greater than the government’s investment in childcare.

“This budget is a missed opportunity to stimulate the economy with spending on infrastructure that would have boosted our manufacturing industry and created new jobs and apprenticeships

Carmichael mine risks exposed

Lawyers fighting to have Queensland’s land court stop the construction of Australia’s largest coal mine say they have made the touted economic benefits look “ridiculous” beside the risk of environmental damage.

In a closing statement against the Carmichael mine proposed by Indian coal giant Adani, barrister Saul Holt told the court there had been “dramatic changes in the picture of this mine” as a result of legal proceedings brought by conservationists.

Holt said cross-examination of Adani’s own expert witnesses had revealed the company had “grossly overstated the jobs and royalties the mine is expected to generate”.

At the same time, Adani had sought approval while understating key environmental risks, including the impact on the “exceptional ecological values” of the Doongmabulla Springs, and the endangered black-throated finch and the waxy cabbage palm, Holt said.

The court was in a “dramatically better position” than state and government decision makers who had relied on Adani’s information, he said.