Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Churches call on Abbott to commit on Climate Change

Leading religious figures have called on the Abbott government and Labor to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gases after the current goal expires in 2020.

In letters to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change representing Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist groups called on Australia to pledge a 40 per cent cut in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2025. By 2030, the reduction should increase to 80 per cent, the group said.

"Australia has the technological and economic capacity to deliver on these policies," the letter said, adding there is a "moral imperative" to keep temperature increases to less than 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels.

"It's important for all humanity," Dr Freier said. "It's bigger than our differences."

Aiming for deep cuts was important "for regaining momentum" after the recent agreement by the government and Labor to slash the Renewable Energy Target for 2020 by about 20 per cent, he said.

"The great danger is that we equivocate", leaving a bigger burden for future generations, Dr Freier said.

Australia's current goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. The Abbott government has said it will reveal its post-2020 stance by mid-year, ahead of the Paris climate summit planned for late this year.

The letter also calls on Opposition leader Bill Shorten to push for "robust commitments" on carbon cuts at Labor's National Conference in Melbourne on July 24-26.

Australia's Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamad added the support of the Muslim community to the letter, telling Fairfax Media it was the responsibility of the current generation to limit pollution.

"I believe that the participation in the protection of the environment is a moral necessity, and not taking steps towards rectifying the current pollution levels is a form of moral pollution," Dr Ibrahim said.

"Industries should aim to serve the environment and not the opposite and if the development of humanity is achieved at the cost of destroying the environment than we need to rethink our strategies of development."

Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, an environmental advisor to the Council of Progressive Rabbis, said the letter reflected a long-standing religious ethos that humans should "live in harmony with the Earth".

Curbing climate change is "extremely urgent", he said, adding that huge heatwaves with temperatures approaching 50 degrees in recent days that have killed more than 500 people are just the latest reason for concern.

"Wherever you look, there are extremes of temperatures, records are being broken at an alarming rate," Mr Keren-Black said. "It's really happening faster than people are giving it credit for."

Australia's response so far was "totally inadequate", given the country's high per-capita emissions and also its role as one of the biggest exporters of fossil fuels.

Dr Freier said Australia's 23 dioceses would choose separately whether to follow the lead of the Church of England, which last month decided to divest its 12 million-pound ($23.7 million) holdings in thermal coal and tar sands oil.

While the Melbourne synod agreed last year not to "have heavy investment in fossil fuels", the Anglican community remains cautious about barring holdings as it does for tobacco, alcohol, gambling and arms, he said.

"We wouldn't want to abandon our commitment" to the Australian economy, Dr Freier said.

CPSU Members 2 Hour Strike 1 July

Industrial action by members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) continues, with staff at Customs and Immigration stepping up their campaign tomorrow (1 July), the first day of their merger into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the new Australian Border Force.

A planned nationwide two-hour strike from 9am follows a series of rolling four-hour stoppages last week involving CPSU members from Agencies including Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support in the Department of Human Services, Agriculture, Defence, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Tax Office.

National Secretary of the CPSU, Nadine Flood said it was expected that this action would cause disruption and delays at international airports, seaports and other centres.

Strike action marks first day of merger

“International airports that will be affected include Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin,” Ms Flood said.

She said Customs and Immigration Officers were being hit particularly hard by the Government’s tough bargaining policy, with many of the allowances they rely on to make up their pay packet cut.

“These men and women literally put their lives on the line to keep Australia safe.”

She said some of the Allowances at risk in the new enterprise agreement included the Use of Force Allowance, for Officers required to maintain specified fitness levels so they could carry firearms; Marine and Marine Accommodation Allowances, for Officers deployed at sea for up to 36 days at a time; and the Dog Detector Unit Allowance, for Officers working with dogs detecting controlled substances.

“Our members take their work very seriously,” Ms Flood said.

“This action will not apply to members engaged in safety of life at sea or on land situations, or on work that could impact on counterterrorism and national security.”

She welcomed what she said was a last-minute determination not to cut the Allowances from the date of the Departmental amalgamation, 1 July 2015.

“Staff are no longer facing an immediate pay cut from day one of Border Force, but they still face a pay cut in a new Agreement which must comply with Government’s bargaining policy,” Ms Flood said.

The inaugural Commissioner of the new Australian Border Force, which will combine Customs and Border Control operations, Roman Quaedvlieg will be sworn in tomorrow at Parliament House in Canberra.

Joseph Stiglitz: how I would vote in the Greek referendum

The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the programme that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies.

But why would Europe do this? Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy?

In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers.

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalised those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: many European leaders want to see the end of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on 5 July. Neither alternative – approval or rejection of the troika’s terms – will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

I know how I would vote.

Super Funds: Independents on Boards a bad idea

Industry super fund boards are currently run – with some exceptions – by union and employer-nominated representatives (although it’s only “corrupt” trade union reps that ever get mentioned by the government and the media).

Industry super, year in and year out, significantly outperforms retail super (which had supposedly “independent” boards); indeed, the industry fund attacked as “corrupt” by the trade union royal commission, CBUS, massively outperforms all but a couple of the hundreds of retail super funds.

Nonetheless, the government’s priority in financial services reform is not a royal commission into the scandal-plagued industry, or strengthening ASIC, but “improving governance” in the industry super sector.

But what’s the problem with a little more independence on such boards? How can that hurt, even if there are other, (much) bigger problems the government should be dealing with?

Well, it’s not the repeal of Future of Financial Advice laws, another Coalition “reform” that would have restored some of the worst excesses of the old days. But how having independent directors on the boards of industry funds will lift their performance to even higher levels over those of retail funds has yet to be explained by the government (or its media cheerleaders).

Having a majority of independent directors on the boards of the Commonwealth Bank, AMP, NAB, ANZ and Macquarie has not prevented the planning and funds management scandals we have seen emerge in the past two years.

In the past, AMP, in a different corporate set-up, was almost crippled on two occasions by dud investments – despite having a majority of independent directors. And Westpac Bank almost collapsed in the early 1990s recession (it was saved, irony of ironies, by AMP), despite having a majority of independent directors on the board.

In all cases where such companies have gotten into trouble, it’s because independent directors, supposedly more sceptical and untainted by connections with management, have not done their jobs – they’ve failed to stand up to managements or go public with serious concerns, and they’ve been just as slow in admitting inappropriate or illegal behaviour that has cost customers and investors.

How many independent directors have resigned in protest over the scandals that have plagued some of our biggest companies? Where were the independent directors of the Commonwealth and ANZ on the criminality that has been revealed at those two major banks in just the last 12 months?

If independent directors are so good in the financial services industry, why is there a consensus among regulators – even ASIC – that banking culture is seriously flawed and needs to be addressed?

The RBA and APRA have gone out of their way to target bank culture in recent months.

In the words of the Reserve Bank, “Australian banks are required to maintain a sound operational risk framework that ensures the proper functioning and behaviour of systems, processes and people; complex and diversified banks should have a more robust framework in place. Banks are also expected to understand their ‘risk culture’, which can be thought of as the way the management of risk is viewed in practice across the institution. Conduct-related events in one area of a banking group may be a signal of broader governance, cultural and risk management deficiencies, and could give rise to entity-wide reputational risks”.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Joseph Stiglitz on Greece: Europe's Last Act?

European Union leaders continue to play a game of brinkmanship with the Greek government. Greece has met its creditors’ demands far more than halfway. Yet Germany and Greece’s other creditors continue to demand that the country sign on to a program that has proven to be a failure, and that few economists ever thought could, would, or should be implemented.

The swing in Greece’s fiscal position from a large primary deficit to a surplus was almost unprecedented, but the demand that the country achieve a primary surplus of 4.5% of GDP was unconscionable. Unfortunately, at the time that the “troika” – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – first included this irresponsible demand in the international financial program for Greece, the country’s authorities had no choice but to accede to it.

The folly of continuing to pursue this program is particularly acute now, given the 25% decline in GDP that Greece has endured since the beginning of the crisis. The troika badly misjudged the macroeconomic effects of the program that they imposed. According to their published forecasts, they believed that, by cutting wages and accepting other austerity measures, Greek exports would increase and the economy would quickly return to growth. They also believed that the first debt restructuring would lead to debt sustainability.

The troika’s forecasts have been wrong, and repeatedly so. And not by a little, but by an enormous amount. Greece’s voters were right to demand a change in course, and their government is right to refuse to sign on to a deeply flawed program.

Having said that, there is room for a deal: Greece has made clear its willingness to engage in continued reforms, and has welcomed Europe’s help in implementing some of them. A dose of reality on the part of Greece’s creditors – about what is achievable, and about the macroeconomic consequences of different fiscal and structural reforms – could provide the basis of an agreement that would be good not only for Greece, but for all of Europe.

Some in Europe, especially in Germany, seem nonchalant about a Greek exit from the eurozone. The market has, they claim, already “priced in” such a rupture. Some even suggest that it would be good for the monetary union.

I believe that such views significantly underestimate both the current and future risks involved. A similar degree of complacency was evident in the United States before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The fragility of America’s banks had been known for a long time – at least since the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns the previous March. Yet, given the lack of transparency (owing in part to weak regulation), both markets and policymakers did not fully appreciate the linkages among financial institutions.

In Europe, we can already see some of the consequences of inadequate regulation and the flawed design of the eurozone itself. We know that the structure of the eurozone encourages divergence, not convergence: as capital and talented people leave crisis-hit economies, these countries become less able to repay their debts. As markets grasp that a vicious downward spiral is structurally embedded in the euro, the consequences for the next crisis become profound. And another crisis in inevitable: it is in the very nature of capitalism.

It is not in the interest of Europe – or the world – to have a country on Europe’s periphery alienated from its neighbors, especially now, when geopolitical instability is already so evident.

Europe’s leaders viewed themselves as visionaries when they created the euro. They thought they were looking beyond the short-term demands that usually preoccupy political leaders.

Unfortunately, their understanding of economics fell short of their ambition; and the politics of the moment did not permit the creation of the institutional framework that might have enabled the euro to work as intended. Although the single currency was supposed to bring unprecedented prosperity, it is difficult to detect a significant positive effect for the eurozone as a whole in the period before the crisis. In the period since, the adverse effects have been enormous.

The future of Europe and the euro now depends on whether the eurozone’s political leaders can combine a modicum of economic understanding with a visionary sense of, and concern for, European solidarity. We are likely to begin finding out the answer to that existential question in the next few weeks.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/greece-creditor-demands-by-joseph-e--stiglitz-2015-06#Jc1X0vAKsEZuuFfU.99

CFMEU: Coalition could be wiped out by China Free Trade Agreement

Research conducted in seven marginal electorates in NSW, QLD, Victoria and South Australia has found that the overwhelming majority of voters do not support the China Australia Free Trade Agreement when they become aware of three elements of the deal.

The research was commissioned by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. The Agreement, which was signed on Wednesday, allows:

  • Chinese companies to bring in their own workers on projects worth more than $150 million, without first advertising for local qualified workers.
  • Chinese companies to export goods to Australia without having to meet the same standards for protecting workers and the environment as Australian companies.
  • Chinese companies to sue future Australian governments if they pass laws that the company believes will have a negative impact on them.
  • The union's research found that the number of voters who opposed the Agreement jumped drastically from 26% before they knew anything about it, to between 85% and 92% once they were aware of the above details.

"The Abbott Government kept the details of the Agreement from voters for most of the last year, and now we know why – voters absolutely hate it," CFMEU National Secretary, Michael O'Connor said.

"Tony Abbot seems to have a plan for jobs - it's just that they are not Australian jobs.

"These features of the Free Trade Agreement with China will threaten Australian jobs at a time of high unemployment, put Australian manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage, and see even more unsafe building and other products flood our market at a time when more regulation, not less, is needed.

"This research shows how dramatically out of step the Abbott Government is with voters on this issue."

Key research findings

In the absence of any detailed knowledge of the Agreement:

  • 32% support it
  • 26% oppose it; and
  • 42% are undecided.

Once they are aware of the detail:

  • 92% of voters oppose allowing Chinese companies who are investing more than $150 million in projects in Australia to bring in their own workers without having to advertise for Australian staff.
  • 87% of voters are against allowing Chinese companies to export goods to Australia without having to meet the same standards for protecting workers and the environment as Australian companies.
  • 85% of voters oppose allowing Chinese companies to sue future Australian governments if they pass laws that the company believes will have a negative effect on them.

The polling was conducted in May 2015 by UMR Strategic Research in the electorates of Macquarie, Gilmore, Flynn, Capricornia, Hindmarsh, Corangamite and Dunkley

Corporate Culture: News Corpse Waging War on Workers

Murdoch's Sydney Rag in a Rage – Monday 29 June 2015

Holland: Universal Basic Income trial

The Dutch city of Utrecht will start an experiment which hopes to determine whether society works effectively with universal, unconditional income introduced.

The city has paired up with the local university to establish whether the concept of 'basic income' can work in real life, and plans to begin the experiment at the end of the summer holidays.

Basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals, which covers their living costs. The concept is to allow people to choose to work more flexible hours in a less regimented society, allowing more time for care, volunteering and study.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

People’s Economic Alternative

A progressive agenda needs to take the latest thinking in economics and marry it to progressive Australian values and traditions. The labour movement, as the voice of workers, and the broader social justice community, has the capacity and social connections to lead such a great project. 

A People’s Economic Alternative is trying to reverse a three decade’s long conventional wisdom about what constitutes good and credible economic policy.

We intend to build a nationwide campaign for a progressive political economic strategy. That involves a broader debate about how the economy and politics work to mainly benefit the rich and powerful, and what are the basic values that a progressive economy should serve – security, fairness and ecological sustainability. The economy should serve society, rather than the reverse. 

To begin this process of challenge and change, the People’s Economic Alternative has proposed a set of values andprinciples that can underpin a new progressive economic agenda and a process for uniting the many dynamic parts of the labour and broader social justice movements. 

Underpinning values

Equity; Fairness; Equality of opportunity; Recognition of the rights of future generations; Basic equality of outcomes, e.g. a living wage and dignified social support; Recognition of roles of both markets and government; Respect for science and education, e.g. economics is much more than a slogan like ‘markets rule’; People’s wellbeing is the ultimate objective, not profits.

10 Principles

Principle 1: Economic growth is not an end in itself, but is a means to better the lives of the Australian people, including future generations.

  • The environment, mental and physical health, strong communities, security, art, freedom, and fairness matter as much if not more for wellbeing as growth in income and wealth.

Principle 2: Economic growth must lead to broad-based and inclusive economic development. No discrimination - all citizens have the right to participate fully in the society

  • Growth must benefit all – women, the aged, youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples, immigrant communities. Strengthen human rights laws and agencies.

Principle 3: Government benefits must be targeted to those in need, adequate to achieve their goals and not used as punishment.

  • People have a right to sufficient welfare support or a living wage.

Principle 4: Good budget management is essential, but this means ensuring solvency, not a blind insistence on budget surpluses.

  • A budget surplus is not the measure of good policy, which should aim to fulfil the government’s role in a solvent way. If you don’t need our money, give it back to us.

Principle 5: Fair regulation means that we all get a go. Good regulation recognises Principle 1: it is people’s welfare, not just economic growth, which matters.

  • Reject the idea that regulation is a ‘bad’. Non-income drivers of wellbeing need strong regulation to support them.

Principle 6: Workers have a fundamental human right to organise, collectively bargain and take democratically-determined industrial action.

  • Workers are people, not just units of production – an economy should work for people, not the other way around.

Principle 7: Provision of government services by an independent and impartial public service is an important responsibility of our elected government.

  • We want a government that understands and does its job as best as possible, not one that doesn’t think it has a job.

Principle 8: Companies and high income earners must pay their fair share.

  • Our tax system is skewed for high income earners – it needs to be re-balanced and made fairer.

Principle 9: We need a broad-based economy, and not one simply based on agriculture, resource extraction and the services sector.

  • The government has a strategic industrial role to play, to ensure a diversified economy.

Principle 10: Trade is crucial, but it must be fair and in the national interest.

  • Trade shouldn’t be used to place corporate interests above people’s interests.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union National; Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union; Finance Sector Union National; AFTINET; Migrante Australia; Australian Political Economy Movement; SEARCH Foundation; Evatt Foundation; Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch; Fire Brigade Employees Union NSW Branch; National Tertiary Education Union NSW Branch; ALP Socialist Left NSW; Greens NSW; F-Collective; No Westconnex Community Action Groups; Immigrant Women’s Speakout; Asian Women at Work.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Meanwhile, Back on Planet Quacko ...

Industry Superannuation – Abbott attempt to privatise our Two Trillion Dollar Savings

The Federal Government is attacking unions over superannuation reform, with controversial draft legislation due to be tabled in parliament today.

Under the proposed laws, super funds will be required to have an independent chairman, and independent directors will need to comprise at least a third of a fund's board.

The Government's key target is known to be union-backed industry superannuation funds, but the proposed changes will also apply to retail, corporate and public sector funds now managing $2 trillion in retirement nest eggs.

Funds will also be required to detail in their annual reports whether they have a majority of independent directors on an "if not, why not" basis under similar rules that apply to ASX-listed companies.

The draft legislation is timed by Government to dovetail the machinations of the Abbot conceived Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption which highlights incidents of alleged misconduct and of unions and their members.

ACTU: Government’s political games will hurt mum & dad retirement savings

26 June 2015

The Abbott Government’s proposed changes to Australia’s world leading not for profit superannuation system are nothing more than an ideologically driven attack on workers.
Not-for-profit industry super funds have lower fees and have outperformed the for-profit retail funds owned by the big banks over any time period comparison.

As Industry Super Australia has pointed out it is astounding that anyone would seek to interfere with a governance model that has driven two decades of strong returns for members nearly 2% higher than the ‘for profit funds’, on average.

There is no evidence to show equal representative governance is failing members and that reform is therefore required. In fact, there is independent academic research that shows independent directors on the boards of some large listed Australian companies have destroyed up to $10 billion in shareholder value because of their poor decision making.

Yet despite these indisputable facts, Mr Abbott and Mr Frydenberg have singled out industry super funds just because workers are represented on their boards.

It is clear that the Government’s view of ‘independent’ is more business people on superannuation boards with the aim of reducing the number of union representatives.

The fact the Abbott Government is pursuing reforms for which there is no demonstrated benefit and is ignoring the need to address the scandals that have engulfed the major banks is telling.

These are the same big banks who revealed that under their watch hundreds of millions of dollars were lost from the retirement savings of thousands of Australians through dodgy financial advice.

Australian Unions, without question, have been the strongest force as developers and proponents of Australia’s world-class superannuation system with a 30-year track record unrivalled in diligence and corporate supervision and in the delivery of returns to Australia’s workers.

Australian Unions call on the ALP, the minor parties and the Independents to stand up for working people and reject these irresponsible, ideologically driven reforms.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President, Ged Kearney:

“It’s simply ideology.  This Government can’t bear it that the trade union movement, along with employer associations, has overseen an amazing success story in superannuation.”

“Industry super funds have lower fees and consistently delivered better returns over any time period for millions of Australians.”

“This is a political attack on unions and on the idea that working people should have a voice in how their savings are managed and invested.”

“If the Government was serious about securing the retirement of millions of Australian mums and dads they would take on the scandal ridden big banks who have overseen the loss of millions of dollars of hard earned savings.”

MEAA condemns Abbott attack on ABC

sm mediaThe Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union and industry advocate for Australia’s journalists, condemns the Prime Minister’s announcement today that “there is going to be an urgent government inquiry into the ABC” following the appearance of Zaky Mallah on Q&A last Monday night and the regular rebroadcasting of the program yesterday.

MEAA notes that the Prime Minister is concerned that the ABC gave “a platform to this convicted criminal and terrorist sympathiser”. MEAA also notes that Mallah has been interviewed in several Australian newspapers over the past 18 months and that on Tuesday night, following his brief appearance on Q&AMallah appeared in an extensive interview on the Ten Network’s program The Project.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “In the past year the Government has attacked press freedom, the freedom of access to information and freedom of expression through its amendments to Australia’s national security laws. MEAA and other media organisations have repeatedly complained about these assaults on the Australian public’s right to know. Journalists face prison terms of up to 10 years for doing their job and will have their metadata trawled through in order identify their sources.

"Now the Government is at it again with this inquiry over an incident for which the ABC has already apologised and launched its own investigation into. Clearly the Government is seeking to directly influence editorial decisions at the national broadcaster.

“The Prime Minister has even pre-empted the outcome of the inquiry by distastefully insisting: ‘Heads should roll over this’. He should withdraw this threat and the proposed inquiry.” Murphy said.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

NSWTF: 'Songs of Hope and Struggle' 27 June

Kev Carmody with Maurie Mulheron and friends 
plus special guest Jeannie Lewis

NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre 
Saturday, 27 June 2015 from 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Why Australia is obsessed with anti-terror laws

FERGAL DAVIS Lecturer in law, UNSW

There’s a perfect storm of circumstances that make our parliament a hotbed of avid anti-terrorism legislators.

Australia is ‘hyper-legislating’. That term was coined by Prof Kent Roach of the University of Toronto and it is an apt description of Australia’s obsession with anti-terror laws.

Just eight months ago the Parliament enacted the Foreign Fighters Act to enable the prosecution of those who fight with terrorist organisations overseas.

This week the government sought additional power – the right to revoke citizenship – apparently to tackle the very same problem.

The Federal Parliament is addicted to the thrill of enacting these laws. They are often draconian and frequently unnecessary.

  • ‘Allegiance to Australia’ bill passes parliament
  • ABC, you’ve been News Corp-ed
  • ‘Bring them home, Mr Abbott’

Prof George Williams, a constitutional expert, did the maths. Between 2001 and 2007 the Howard government enacted 48 anti-terror laws.

The pace slowed under the Rudd/Gillard governments. They managed a further 13 anti-terror laws.

In 2014 the Abbott government enacted a further three “tranches” of national security laws.

By any measure Australia’s post 9/11 record is remarkable. The speed with which anti-terror laws are adopted, amended and superseded is astonishing.

But why does Australia hyper-legislate?

The absence of a Bill of Rights

Uniquely in the Western world, Australia does not have a Federal Bill of Rights.

Don’t get me wrong. A Bill of Rights is no magic bullet.

US President Abraham Lincoln was able to suspend habeas corpus during the American Civil War. President Franklin D Roosevelt interned over 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. President George W Bush created Guantanamo, which President Barack Obama has failed to close.

But the absence of a Bill of Rights means Australian governments are uninhibited by concerns about the courts striking anti-terror legislation down.

The High Court of Australia has upheld indefinite detention and the retrospective application of criminal law.

There is no legal framework to give the government pause for thought when it considers how to balance the need for anti-terror laws with human rights.


The division of Australian politics into two main blocs prevents adequate scrutiny of anti-terror laws.

Neither side of politics wants to be accused of going soft on terror. As a result a policy of bipartisanship has emerged – but that shuts down legitimate debate.

To avoid being accused of rolling out the red carpet for terrorists opposition parties can quibble with the detail of legislation but ultimately are compelled to back the proposals.

Fear of the party whip

The problem of bipartisanship is exacerbated by the extreme form of party cohesion in Australian politics. In Australia, backbenchers don’t revolt. They toe the party line. And on national security the party line of both parties is effectively the same – so the voices speaking out against any proposals are marginalised.

In the current citizenship debate there has been some evidence of how the potential for revolt can shift government policy. The leaking of Cabinet concerns about the proposed changes appear to have won concessions.

Indeed any concessions that have been won might be traced to Malcolm Turnbull’s statement: “Well every law has to comply with the Constitution.”

He invoked a legal restraint on the power of the legislature. He and his Cabinet colleagues tentatively demonstrated a willingness to break ranks with government. And Mark Dreyfus, the shadow Attorney-General, signalled that bipartisanship is, if not over, at least under strain.

But in the end these laws will pass. They will pass because the legal basis for a challenge is limited.

They will pass because the major parties will, after some huffing and puffing, line up behind them. They will pass because no one will cross the floor – no one will join the cross bench – in defence of the rights of suspected terrorists.

And the cycle of hyper-legislating can begin all over again.

ACOSS National Conference - June 25-26

Advancing the common good to close the divide

What: ACOSS National Conference: Advancing the Common Good
When: Thursday 25th and Friday 26th June (9.15am start)
Where: Australian Technology Park (Eveleigh) Sydney.

People affected by poverty and those who work to support them will come together with representatives of government, business and the wider community as the ACOSS National Conference kicks off in Sydney today.

The Conference gets underway as a new Ipsos report commissioned by ACOSS is released.* ‘Community Perspectives on Social Inequality (2005-2015)’ points to the overwhelming community perception of inequality as a growing problem in Australia.

“Today’s Ipsos report reveals a genuine concern from people about how others are faring. Older people are worrying about the ability of young people to get decent paid work. There is widespread recognition that younger people are struggling to secure their housing needs. And we see shared concern across generations about how each of us will fare, and who will look after us in our old age,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Forty-four per cent of respondents who were currently working were worried about losing their jobs due to Australia’s economic conditions and 69% felt that Government benefits would not be enough to support them if they did. Moreover, 73% of respondents felt that the gap between rich and poor was getting wider and 58% felt that having large differences in income and wealth is bad for society.

"This is a wakeup call to our governments: community concern about inequality is significant.

“Our conference will hear directly from people experiencing poverty and draw on the research from ACOSS, Ipsos and others that points to the widespread concern about these problems and – equally importantly – what we can do as a nation to address them,” she said.

A new video to highlight key findings from the ACOSS ‘Inequality in Australia’ report will also be officially launched today.

US anti-poverty campaigner Linda Tirado and author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America will deliver the opening plenary at the Conference, reflecting on life for the ‘working poor’ in America, and common misconceptions about people living in poverty.

“We are delighted that Linda Tirado is addressing our conference, putting the lived experience of poverty front and centre of the conversation about work and welfare. Linda also sounds a salutary warning about the dangers of eroding our universal health and education services and the social safety net. As ACOSS’ ‘Inequality in Australia’ report highlighted, these institutions have protected Australia from more extreme inequality and must not be eroded,” said Dr Goldie.

The Conference will feature speakers from community, government and business and those who have experienced life below the poverty line.

Political representatives include:

  • The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Social Services (representing the Prime Minister)
  • Representative from the Federal Opposition
  • Senator Richard di Natale, Leader of the Australian Greens
  • The Hon Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Social Housing
  • Other speakers include:
  • Les Malezer, Co-Chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
  • Linda Tirado, US anti-poverty campaigner and author of ‘Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America’
  • Fiona Collis, Director, Ipsos Mind and Mood Report
  • Chris Dodds, Chair of Telstra’s Low Income Measures Assessment Committee
  • Marcelle Mogg, CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia
  • Dr Helen Hodgson, Curtin University
  • Greg Smith, Commonwealth Grants Commission and Melbourne University
  • Jane Caro, Social commentator
  • Professor Deborah Brennan, UNSW
  • Professor Barbara Pocock, University of South Australia
  • Patricia Karvelas, ABC
  • Catherine Yeomans, CEO, Mission Australia
  • Craig Wallace, President of People with Disability Australia
  • Anton Enus, SBS
  • Maho Abdo, CEO United Muslim Women’s Association
  • Hugh de Kretser, Human Rights Law Centre
  • Paul Barclay, ABC
  • John Buchanan, University of Sydney
  • Phil Edmonds, Rio Tinto

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Walmartiization of Public Schools: Pyne and Abbot't's new model?

A new report out today from Cashing in on Kids shows the Walton Family Foundation is spending billions to implement a hardcore ideological agenda of replacing public schools with a privatized system that will be open to exploitation by private corporations.

To put it succinctly, the Waltons are hell-bent on the “Walmartization” of public education.

In addition to the billions spent by the Walton Family Foundation in pursuit of this agenda, members of the Walton family have funneled millions of dollars to education-related ballot measures and politicians who back their agenda.

Lest there be any doubt, the Waltons’ meddling in education policy seriously threatens America’s historic commitment to the principle of free and equal access to public education.

As the new report reveals, the Walton Family Foundation puts their money behind reforms that undermine the promise of universal public education in three key ways:

  • By diverting taxpayer dollars from public schools to privately operated schools that are not required to admit and educate all students.
  • By supporting efforts to close down public schools in poor neighborhoods and lay off experienced teachers in order to make room for privately-operated schools staffed by recent college graduates with only 5 weeks of teacher training.
  • By blocking legislation to ensure public oversight and accountability of privately-operated schools funded with taxpayer dollars.
  • To add insult to injury, the Waltons (who collect $8.5 million/day in stock dividends from low-wage Walmart) claim their education reform agenda will help lift children out of poverty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ACTU: Tougher laws needed to enforce asbestos importation ban

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The lives of Australian workers and members of the community are being placed at risk by exposure to imported products containing asbestos.

Unions and asbestos support groups will meet Government and Opposition MPs in Canberra today to call for bi-partisan support for more resources and better enforcement of Australia’s ban on asbestos imports.

Despite being banned, asbestos has recently been found in car parts, boilers, construction materials, trains, tugboats and children’s toys imported into Australia.

In a recent case, a boiler made in South Korea was identified as containing chrysotile asbestos six years after it had been imported.

Many of these products are making their way to Australia via internet sites, such as eBay, from Russia and China where there is no ban on asbestos.

Unions and asbestos support groups are calling for tougher enforcement of Australia’s ban on asbestos including:
  • an investigation into incidences of asbestos importation into Australia;
  • tougher laws to ensure people and businesses breaching the importation ban are prosecuted;
  • more money and staff for Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to crackdown on illegal asbestos imports;
  • the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, to make stopping the importation of products containing asbestos a priority for Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
Quotes attributable to ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick:

“Asbestos has already killed many thousands of Australians and sadly the full impact of asbestos-related diseases is not expected to peak until 2020.”
“The Abbott Government must urgently provide greater resources to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to ensure they are equipped to enforce the ban on asbestos.”

“We need tougher action and more resources to ensure those who flout the bans on asbestos importation are prosecuted.”
“If nothing is done to crack down on the importation of products containing asbestos, the lives of more Australians will be placed at risk.”

NSWTF: Imagine a government that did not fund government schools.

Crazy right? Yes, but that is what the Abbott Government has on the table right now.

Leaked documents show it has produced an education plan that includes the options of ending the federal funding of public schools or ending the provision of free public education.

When news got out yesterday, Mr Abbott abandoned the plan to end more than 100 years of free public education.

But he did not rule out ending all federal funding of public schools. State Governments would either fund and manage all schools or just public schools. Not one word about how the shortfall in funding would be made up.

Of course, Gonski would be demolished as well.

If you oppose this add your name to our petition calling on Mr Abbott not to abandon Gonski and our public schools.

Almost $6 billion a year in federal funding goes to public schools. That is $1 out of every $8 spent and it will be a lot more than that if we can get Gonski in full.

Unfortunately, we know the Federal Government doesn’t believe it has a responsibility for public schools. As Education Minister Christopher Pyne said last year:

"Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for government schooling.”

He added that the “emotional commitment’’ of the Abbott Government was to continue a relationship with the private school sector.

Please make sure your name is on this petition when we send it to Mr Abbott telling him the primary obligation of all governments is to adequately and appropriately resource government schools.

ACOSS: Government still wrong on super

Tuesday June 23, 2015

Welcoming the passage of the age pension reform bill last night, ACOSS described the policy reforms as sound and fair, while calling for the Government to conduct its retirement incomes review in good faith with an openness to superannuation reform.

“The changes to the Pension assets test passed by the Parliament last night help ensure that the Pension is going to people who need it, including improving the adequacy for people who have limited assets. The tightening of the assets test to pre-2007 levels reinforces the role of the pension as a safety net payment to prevent poverty," said Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS also welcomes passage of legislation abolishing the Seniors Supplement. This Supplement is very poorly targeted, going to older people who are not eligible for the Age Pension due to their substantial assets.

“However, whilst we support the policy reforms passed last night, we are concerned by the expedited parliamentary process. The changes to the pension are significant and complex and warranted a Senate Committee hearing.

“We also strongly criticise the Federal Government for ignoring the groundswell of opinion about the need for superannuation reform. The changes to pensions now legislated must be coupled by reform to superannuation to deliver an a robust and effective Retirement Income System that will stand the test of time.”

“Right now, the benefits of our superannuation system flow disproportionately to those who would be able to provide for their own retirement futures. Those in the top 10% currently receive the one third of the benefits of superannuation tax concessions, costing the Federal Budget over $30 billion a year.

"Reform of superannuation has attracted widespread support from diverse parts of the community, including the Committee on Retirement Income System, ACOSS, COTA, the Chair of the Government’s Commission of Audit, Tony Shepherd, the Business Council of Australia, David Murray in the recent Financial System Inquiry, the Grattan Institute, the Australia Institute, and Alan Jones. Both the Opposition, and the Greens have also urged appropriate reform.

“Our submission to the Senate pension reform bill review recommended two mechanisms to ensure the overall adequacy, balance and sustainability of the retirement incomes system:

  • A retirement incomes review
  • A regular review of payment adequacy  

“The Retirement Incomes Review must be comprehensive and conducted in good faith, with all reform options on the table for consideration. This must include reforms to superannuation tax concessions. The Review must also include the three key pillars of secure retirement: adequate income; affordable housing; and universal health care.

"The Retirement Income Review must settle the core purposes of the Age Pension, Superannuation and the Retirement Income System as a whole. The Review must make clear recommendations about reform to Superannuation, and set out a method by which future reforms will be developed, considered, and carefully implemented, ideally with bipartisan support.

"We need a clear mechanism for future governments to ensure adequacy of the Age Pension in the decades to come consistent with its core purpose, as well as superannuation.

"The adequacy of pensions is important but they are one part of a wider social security system. For example, adequate allowances for unemployed people and family payments are also essential to prevent poverty. A regular review of incomes support adequacy should be conducted by an independent expert body to take some of the short-term politics out of the settings of payment levels, and the way they are adjusted over time.

"This should be done by reference to  the adequacy of base payments, indexation and supplements by reference to basic living costs, community living standards and measures of poverty and deprivation. Decisions on payment levels and indexation would be made by Parliament, based on recommendations from these independent reviews.

"We must get the balance right. People cannot have a secure retirement without affordable housing, health and aged care. The government spends over $60 billion a year to support retirement incomes - much of which goes to people who don't need help - while at the same time it starves the States of funding they need to provide health care. Very little is being done to reduce the cost of housing and the present tax system is making matters worse," Dr Goldie said.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The AITSL is fast becoming irrelevant

Maurie Mulheron President NSWTF

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is a public company funded by the Australian Government with the Federal Minister for Education and Training as the sole member of the company. Currently, that person is Christopher Pyne.

AITSL was established in 2010 following failed attempts to develop a national body capable of engaging the profession in the work of creating national teaching standards. From the beginning, the work of AITSL was overseen and managed by a representative board. In the space of three to four years it was able to develop national standards with massive buy-in from the profession, schools systems and state jurisdictions.

But it is now no longer such an institution.

Pyne has used his role as the ‘sole member’ of the company to sack the representative board and stack the new board with political allies, private school lobbyists, education crackpots and bureaucratic ‘has-beens’. The only member representing public education is NSW Department of Education Secretary, Dr Michele Bruniges, who must be asking what she has done in a previous life to deserve such an appointment.

The removal of the Australian Education Union (AEU), with a membership of 189,000 education professionals, from the new board means that teachers and principals are no longer represented on the AITSL board. The profession has been deliberately disenfranchised. The people most affected by AITSL decisions have been excluded from any role.

We can all recall the decision by Pyne to appoint Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire to head the National Review into Curriculum. The choice of Donnelly was lampooned and criticised across the country and throughout the profession. In the end, because of Pyne’s overreach, the resulting curriculum review was largely ignored by teachers. During the review, Ken Wiltshire sought to distance himself from his more extreme co-reviewer. This is because the most precious commodity of an academic is his or her reputation. Given Pyne’s recent appointments to the AITSL board, the chair, John Hattie, must be worried.

A worrying development has been the recent comments of Professor Hattie in the Sydney Morning Herald(June 16) where he argues that smaller class sizes and greater resources have minimal effect on improving student outcomes. ‘‘Parents like smaller classes because they think their kids get more individual attention,’’ Professor Hattie said. ‘‘But the problem is teachers don’t change how they teach …”.

Sweeping generalisations like this must reassure Pyne who has been seeking an academic justification for his assertions that smaller class sizes are irrelevant and that additional Gonski funding is unnecessary, arguing, instead, that the real issue is the quality of teachers.

Pyne has also appointed an academic from the Australian Catholic University (ACU) as the board member responsible for initial teacher education. This must surely be a conflict of interest given that the ACU has the lowest entry scores for teaching courses and the AITSL board is moving to assess teacher training courses in Australian universities.

It is a moot point as to whether the federal minister has been influenced by neo-liberal management theories, which have become the orthodoxy in so many university business schools, that contend that the composition of boards should be made up of ‘experts’ rather than ‘representatives’. If this were the case, the new board fails even on that criterion, with Dr Bruniges being one exception.

AITSL has now had its links to actual schooling systems and the organised teaching profession seriously weakened. It harks back to the years of 2005–2010 when the highly politicised predecessor of AITSL, Teaching Australia, produced nothing of any substance and was largely ignored by the teaching profession.

Recently, the chair of AITSL has let it be known that the composition of the working committees of AITSL, which currently have teacher union representation on them, will also change and will cease to be a representative model.

The reality is that Pyne has always been keen on politics and weak on policy. These moves are deliberate and provocative. Few would doubt his motives.

Credit card gouging

Federal Labor and crossbench senators have ganged up to hold an inquiry into credit card interest rates, now at an historic high above the Reserve Bank of Australia’s official cash rate.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and Labor senator Sam Dastyari have written to the prime minister, Tony Abbott, seeking his support for the Senate inquiry.

“There is indisputable evidence that families and small businesses are being dudded,” they said in a statement on Sunday.

While the Reserve Bank has slashed its cash rate by 275 basis points since 2011 to a record low of 2%, the average standard credit rate remains relatively unchanged at 19.75%.

A spokesperson for treasurer Joe Hockey said the government will look at Shorten’s proposal as it prepares to respond to its financial system inquiry, which included credit card-related matters.

Treasury is also coordinating a review with other members of the Council of Regulators into the issue.

“We will continue to work in a methodical way to improve consumer outcomes for Australian credit card holders,” the spokesperson said.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said that for far too long credit cards have been a lazy way for banks to bolster their profits, describing it as the “great credit card gouge”.

“Millions of Australians are paying billions of dollars needlessly with their cards,” he said in a statement.

The inquiry would be chaired by senator Dastyari and would hear from banks, affected consumers and consumer groups that have been pushing for change.

Xenophon hopes it will provide the opportunity to canvass new law options that include greater transparency and whether there should be a ceiling on the difference between the cash rate and credit card rates.

He also wants banks to fund financial counselling for those caught in the credit card trap and to offer alternative options to those seeking credit, such as lower interest personal loans.

The South Australian senator intends to release draft legislation by the end of the year.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

ISA: Put Pension Changes On Hold Until Retirement System Fully Reviewed

Industry Super Australia (ISA) says far-reaching changes to the age pension should not be rushed through the Senate without regard to a careful rebalancing of the whole retirement income system, particularly taking into account super tax breaks that flow disproportionately to high earners.

“Super and pensions are two sides of the same coin for millions of workers and any changes need to be considered in tandem,” said David Whiteley, Chief Executive of Industry Super Australia.

“Our parliamentarians must adopt a measured and evidence-based approach to any changes to retirement incomes policy and quarantine it from the budget and electoral cycle.”

Mr Whiteley said if there is to be a six week extension to the review of tax and retirement income, lawmakers should at the very least take the opportunity to thoroughly examine the large body of evidence-based submissions to ensure the impact is fully understood.

According to data produced by actuaries Rice Warner and ISA, the proposed changes will impact most heavily on middle to low income workers earning average wages of $75,000 or below, and women most severely.

“One of the most troubling outcomes of this proposal is that around 80% of single women retiring in 2055 will be disadvantaged,” said Mr Whiteley.

“As it is, around 63% of single women will not be able to retire comfortably through to 2055, even with super, pension payments and other savings combined. This measure will deepen that inequity.”

Other impacts indicate:

  • Single males currently aged 25-29 on incomes between around $27,500 to $143,000 would be adversely affected by the proposed cuts to the age pension.
  • Single males currently aged 45-49 on incomes between $56,000 to $183,000 would be adversely affected by the proposed cuts to the age pension.
  • Single males currently aged 55-59 on incomes between $52,000 to $160,000 would be adversely affected by the proposed cuts to the age pension.

“Constant tinkering and speculation on one aspect or another of retirement income policy in isolation is risking the broad-based community support for superannuation,” said Mr Whiteley.

“No changes should be rushed through the Parliament until all stakeholders and policy experts have had an opportunity to make submissions to the retirement income review process.”

- See more at

AIST: Pension changes - without review of super - fail the fairness test

18 June 2015

Proposed pension changes – currently before Parliament – would result in wealthy self-funded retirees receiving more than double the level of government support than most middle income Australians, The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) said today.

AIST CEO Tom Garcia said AIST-Mercer research had revealed that the top 10% of wage earners currently receive government support to the value of more than $489,000 over a working lifetime. By contrast, the level of government support provided to middle income earners (30 to 70 income percentile) would fall to between $214,000 and $257,000 under the proposed changes to the Pension Asset Test .

The AIST-Mercer Super Tracker assigns Australia’s retirement income system a ‘fairness’ score based on the cost of government support of Super Guarantee tax concessions and the Age Pension. A perfect score of 10 out of 10 would represent a level playing field of government support across all income percentiles.

Prior to the Budget, the Tracker’s fairness score was a worrying 3.3 out of 10. Budget changes to the asset test would reduce this score to just 0.3 out of 10, effectively blowing fairness off the table.

Mr Garcia said the widening of the inequity gap in Australia’s retirement income system raised serious concerns in terms of both intra and inter-generational equity.

“It’s well-recognised by bodies such as the OECD that fairness – both within and across generations – is a vital component of a sustainable retirement income system,” Mr Garcia said. 

AMWU: China deal trades away jobs, rights


The AMWU has joined the calls of concern at the signing of the China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) this week, with potentially huge hits to manufacturing jobs and to all taxpayers.

Under the FTA, Chinese corporations can bring in entire workforces on projects worth as little as $150 million, under “Investment Facilitation Agreements. ”  These allow for so-called “increased labour flexibility.”

While PM Tony Abbott is big on back-slapping over reducing trade barriers on beef and wine exports, the Government is coy on its wider impact.

“Jobs for local workers must be guaranteed under any trade agreement signed – a fundamental test that this agreement fails,” said AMWU National President Andrew Dettmer.

“Any major construction project is over $150 million – these agreements could send employment shockwaves through the sector if we see free movement of workers brought in,” warned Mr Dettmer.

“Despite the Government’s claims that labour market testing will apply, rules for these new IFAs will be based on Enterprise Migration Agreements – which do not require employers to advertise jobs locally before recruiting workers from overseas.

“There also are no safeguards that any workers coming from overseas be employed under Australian standards – thereby undercutting the entire workforce.”

 Enterprise Migration Agreements were originally set up for projects of more than $2 billion with more than 1500 workers but the figure has been downgraded while the same rules kept.

Mr Dettmer said the export benefits to rural producers from the China agreement would pale compared to the disadvantage to workers from allowing in foreign workforces on wages and conditions which undercut Australian jobs, particularly with unemployment at a record high.

The AMWU is also deeply concerned about the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism that will allow Chinese corporations to sue Australia's government in overseas trade tribunals if a change in law can be claimed to have harmed their investments in Australia.

That is already happening in the case of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is suing Australia over our cigarette plain packaging laws.

It is the same legal loss of sovereignty which will expose Australian governments – and taxpayers – under the pending Trans Pacific Partnership agreement which unions in the US are also fighting.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Greece: PM Tsipras accuses creditors of trying to humiliate Greece

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has accused international creditors of trying to "humiliate" the country and called on Europe to reconsider its support for harsh reform proposals of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Tsipras' comments came on Tuesday as Greece faced pressure to tone down the rhetoric and help reach a deal with its creditors that will avert default at the end of the month.

The negotiations concern the release of about $8.1bn in rescue funds remaining in Greece's massive bailout from the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank.

"The fixation on cuts...is most likely part of a political plan...to humiliate an entire people that has suffered in the past five years through no fault of its own," Tsipras said.

"The time has come for the IMF's proposals to be judged in public...by Europe."

He also said that the global lender bore "criminal responsibility" for austerity measures that plunged the country into a six-year recession.

The 40-year-old premier held a round of consultations with rival political leaders earlier on Tuesday to seek support for a potential compromise deal with just two weeks before the bailout expires.

Also at the end of the month, Greece faces a $1.7bn payment to the IMF, with another $7.5bn due to the ECB in July and August, which Greek officials have said the government cannot afford.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Athens would not bring new reform measures to the table.

"The Eurogroup is not the right place to present proposals which haven't been discussed and negotiated on a lower level before," Varoufakis told Germany's mass-circulation daily Bild.

ACTU: Changes to 457 laws would create 7000 training positions

18 June 2015

ACTU submission to Productivity Commission Inquiry into the migrant intake into Australia
temporary work visas  457 visa  training  Ged Kearney  Senate Inquiry
Unions are calling for changes to the 457 visa program that will boost training positions for young workers and those looking to reskill while at the same time addressing employer concerns over skills shortages.

This includes requiring an employer who employs four or more 457 visa holders to have at least 25 per cent of its workforce made up of apprentices or trainees.

If this standard was applied to the current 457 visa tradespersons workforce of 27,790, almost 7000 apprentices and trainees opportunities would be created.

The 457 visa is the easiest to regulate because it relies on a sponsorship framework.

The tightening of laws around the use of 457s should be seen as a first step to reforming the entire temporary visa system.

These recommendations will form part of the union case to the Senate Inquiry into Temporary Visas which is sitting in Melbourne on Friday and Sydney next week.

Recommended changes include:

  • Where four or more 457 visa workers are sponsored by the employer in trade and technical occupations, apprentices must represent at least 25 per cent of the sponsor’s trade workforce;
  • When employers are sponsoring 457 visa workers in professional and managerial occupations, recent Australian higher education graduates with less than 12 months’ paid work experience should represent at least 15% per cent of the sponsor’s managerial and professional workforce;
  • Sponsors of 457 visa workers should make a $4000 payment into a dedicated training fund that is linked to broader training objectives.

  • There are over 1.2 million temporary visa holders working in Australia and they make up 10 per cent of the workforce;
  • Allowed to continue at current growth rate numbers will reach two million by 2020;
  • Over a period of seven years from 2007-14, the number of temporary visa holders rose by around 600,000 – an almost 50 per cent increase;
  • By comparison, 128,550 skilled migrants moved to Australia in the past 12 months under the permanent migration program.
  • There are currently 106,750 primary 457 visa holders in Australia.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney.

“Unions are calling for stronger requirements on employers to train and employ apprentices, trainees and graduates in the same occupations where they are currently using 457 visa workers.”

“In Australia there is an over use and abuse of temporary visa workers and the driving force behind this is employer claims that they can’t find local workers to fill positions.”

“With Australia’s unemployment rate sitting at or above 6 per cent for a year now and youth unemployment still too high at 13.4 per cent it’s getting more and more difficult to accept arguments about skills shortages.”

“Stronger regulation around the use of 457 visas would ensure the response to alleged skills gaps included solutions such as training and investment, not simply to look overseas for workers.”

“Employment and training opportunities for people today will benefit Australia long into the future. It’s time we look ahead instead of simply reacting to short-term demands.”

CPSU: Perth members fill Town Hall

Poll: 63% favour recognising ​Indigenous Australians in constitution

Support for the change is strongest among Greens and Labor voters, while 54% per cent of Coalition voters are also in favour.

Mural of Aboriginal flag

Nearly two out of three voters would vote in favour of recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution, a new opinion poll shows.
A Newspoll of 1,722 people conducted last weekend shows 63% support constitutional recognition, while 19% oppose it and 18% are uncommitted.
Support for the change in the nation’s founding document is strongest among Greens and Labor voters, while 54% of Coalition voters are also in favour, the poll published in the Weekend Australian revealed.