Monday, February 29, 2016

Senate Voting and Constitution

Prof George Williams, an expert in constitutional law at the University of NSW, has argued the changes are a major improvement on the current system but said that maintaining full preferential voting below the line “[enables] parties to affect the result in a way that is not a true reflection of voter preferences”.

“Disturbingly, it would do this in a way that would create the impression that this bill is designed to harm the electoral chances of minor parties while retaining the capacity of major parties to manipulate the preferences of voters through the ordering of candidates,” he said in a submission.

Psephologists Peter Brentand Antony Green have also argued for optional preferential voting below the line, which was a recommendation of the 2014 Senate inquiry into the voting system.

Green said it was “disappointing” the legislation did not introduce optional preferential voting below the line, arguing the same expression of preferences could be considered formal above the line, but informal below. 

It would also “allow voters to optionally express preferences for candidates in the order presented by parties, but deny voters the option to optional give preferences for the same candidates in a different order,” he said in a submission.

“It is the sort of inconsistency that attracts the attention of the High Court, especially when Section 7 of the Constitution states that Senators should be ‘directly elected by the people’.”

European Central Bank Woes

Prices in the euro zone fell in February, falling short of already depressed expectations and virtually ensuring another round of policy easing from the European Central Bank on March 10.

Combined with weak sentiment and output data, the dismal inflation figures suggest that the bloc's tepid growth is slowing, adding to calls for fiscal and monetary policy action to prop up an economy that has yet to grow back to its pre-crisis size.

"Deflation would be a disaster for the euro area as the burden of high debt would increase," Nordea economist Holger Sandte said. "Therefore, the ECB will continue easing monetary policy significantly."

"But no matter what the ECB decides to do on 10 March, inflation is likely to hover around zero during the next few months before it picks up – if oil prices behave well," Sandte added.

Headline inflation, the key indicator watched by the ECB, fell to -0.2 percent from 0.3 percent a month earlier, far from the bank's target of close to 2 percent and below already muted expectations for unchanged prices.

More alarmingly for the ECB, core inflation excluding volatile food and energy prices, dipped to 0.8 percent from 1 percent, suggesting that low oil prices are feeding into the price of other goods and services, creating a so-called second round effect that could entrench low inflation and lead to deflation.

Indeed, Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau, an influential member of the ECB's Governing Council, warned over the weekend that the central bank would have to act if the low energy prices appeared to have long-term effects.

Yanis Varoufakis to advise Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, who has sought to take the party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown further to the left since he became leader in 2015, said Varoufakis would advise Labour in "some capacity" due to his experience from dealing with the European Union.

"Varoufakis is interesting, because he has obviously been through all the negotiations [with ECB, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund]," he told his local London newspaper, the Islington Tribune.

"I realise we’re not in the euro zone but it's a question of understanding how we challenge the notion that you can cut your way to prosperity when in reality you have to grow your way to prosperity.

"I think the way Greece has been treated is terrible and we should reach out to them."

Varoufakis quit as finance minister last July after refusing to accept the terms of a third bailout for Greece which imposed further tough austerity measures. He has already met Labour's finance spokesman John McDonnell.

Corbyn, who voted against membership in 1975, has said he will campaign to keep Britain in the EU in a June 23 referendum, arguing that membership is the best way to improve social and employment laws.

ETU: 100s of Energy Jobs Could Still be Lost

Jobs of hundreds of Essential Energy workers on the north coast are still uncertain despite a federal court ruling in their favour.

Hundreds of members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) on the north coast  could still be handed redundancies despite a court ruling on Friday that the methodology the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) used to justify them was flawed.

The regulator ruled in April last year that the prices charged by energy networks, including Ausgrid and Essential Energy, were too high but the companies argued that the only way to make the savings it required would be to cut thousands of frontline jobs.

The Australian Competition Tribunal (ACT) determined on Friday that ‘it is in the long term interests of consumers of electricity and gas to set aside the AER’s decisions and have the AER make them again,’ adding ‘the impact on the suppliers’ revenues and hence the prices they may charge, will not be known until the AER remakes its decisions.’

The ETU, whose members constitute most of the threatened workers, has hailed the decision but warned that their jobs are not yet safe.

Many Essential Energy workers on the north coast, including meter readers, have already had their work outsourced but crews that maintain lines and repair outages are still waiting to discover their fate.

Rethink urged

ETU’s north coast representative Geoff Prime said Essential Energy ‘now need to seriously rethink their application of the AER original decision, whereby this year they have targeted 800 jobs in rural communities including the north coast of NSW. ‘

‘Any loss of regional jobs will have a devastating effect on local communities as Essential Energy management, including [north coast resident] COO Garry Humphries, should know,’ 

ETU state secretary Steve Butler agreed the decision should ‘force a rethink of the significant job cuts being pursued by Essential Energy, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.’

‘Thousands of proposed job cuts being pursued by the publicly-owned electricity companies… were based on the flawed AER determination and should now be abandoned,’ Mr Butler said.

‘The loss of loyal, highly-skilled workers across the state is short-sighted and will inevitably impact on consumers through poorer services in the future,’ he added.

Mr Butler urged the AER to take ‘a more sensible approach when remaking their determination, with a greater emphasis on striking a balance between price, safety and reliability.’

Greens support

The ETU has received unexpected support in its campaign from the Greens.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said he ‘knew from the start the AER’s modelling was dodgy,’ and that seeing it overturned was ‘great news for workers threatened by deep cuts.’

‘Cuts to [operational expenditure] would have seen thousands of line workers lose their jobs and a significant cut to maintenance funding, threatening the reliability of the electricity supply to NSW consumers,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘The determination of the Tribunal is a hammer blow to the Baird government’s case for privatisation, and shows that the grid needs to remain in public hands where spending decisions are made for the benefit of workers and consumers, not the profit margin of multinational consortiums.

‘The Greens stand with electricity workers and the ETU in welcoming this decision, and we hope to see a far better deal for workers out of the new determination,’ Mr Shoebridge said.

Labor supported flawed process

Mr Butler also hit out at opposition leader Luke Foley over his support for the ‘flawed AER process’.

‘Luke Foley simply has no idea when it comes to delivering an affordable, safe and reliable electricity network that best serves the interests of the people of NSW,’ Mr Butler said.

NSWTF: To Climb The Hill – Oldest School Turns 200

By Maurie Mulheron
President New South Wales Teachers Federation

Newcastle East Public School – 200 Years 
On a hill, there sits a school.

In the school grounds there is a large, circular concrete pad into which 17 small bronze stools are cemented. Each of the stools is unique. They represent roughly-hewn wooden seats on which infants might have sat.

This beautiful sculpture, which now sits surrounded by a native garden, was created by artist Heather Swann.

I visited the school recently on a Saturday afternoon. Having climbed to the top of the steep hill, I noticed a large crowd gathered in the school grounds, spilling onto the pavement. I looked over at the sculpture and noticed that each bronze stool was occupied by a small child.

Everyone was listening to the principal, John Beach, welcoming the local community to the school before introducing the guest speaker, former prime minister, Julia Gillard.

The occasion was the launch of To Climb the Hill: A People’s History of Newcastle East Public School 1816–2016. The sculpture had been commissioned to coincide with the launch.

The school is celebrating its 200th anniversary as the oldest school in continuous operation in Australia.

The book makes for fascinating reading. Sure, there are the stories of famous Australians who attended the school, such as Ben Lexcen and Miranda Otto, but it was the story of the first teacher and his 17 pupils that captured my attention.

The teacher’s name was Henry Wrensford and, in 1816, Governor Macquarie appointed him to the position of schoolmaster of the Public Charity School that had just been established in the open-air prison of Newcastle. Wrensford was one of 35 schoolmasters teaching in the colony of New South Wales.

Wrensford had been convicted in Central London in 1812 of fraud and, after a year on a rotting hulk in the Thames, had been transported. He was 26 years old when he arrived.

Macquarie, in need of teachers, granted Wrensford a conditional pardon and appointed him schoolmaster. His qualifications at the time were his middle-class background and the elementary education he had received.

Newcastle’s population in 1816 was made up of about 300-400 convicts and soldiers. Wrensford’s status as a pardoned convict and schoolmaster meant he had a relatively privileged life compared to the dirty and dangerous work of the other convicts who were involved in cedar-felling, coalmining and the lime-burning of oyster shells.

He would have arrived at the school, then a slab hut, clothed in a military uniform. His pay would have been rations and free accommodation.

The 17 pupils in his first class were the children of convicts, soldiers, the harbour pilot, and the surgeon. There were eight girls and nine boys ranging in age from three to 13 years. As was common practice at the time, the 13-year-old boy would have acted as the pupil-teacher.

The curriculum was basic and narrow, the four Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. After all, this school had been established by the Church of England and the teaching of the tenets of the Anglican religion dominated the school day. Indeed, by 1817, the school moved into the vestry of the newly-built Christ Church, where it remained for decades.

Discipline would have been tough and physical in this strict hierarchical military settlement and this was reflected in how children were treated. Macquarie had standards and rules for his schools. Any child engaging in “idle or wicked Habits at School” was to undergo corporal punishment or expelled.

In those days, schools were created to control the “unruly street urchins” and to provide them with an education in morals.

The school operated from nine to five each day with attendance at church on Sunday compulsory.
Wrensford eventually moved onto another school in 1820, a new private institution at Castlereagh, but he preferred to work at a government school and very soon afterwards became Public Schoolmaster at Airds, then a small settlement near Campbelltown.

The 17 children at the Newcastle Public Charity School might well have regarded themselves as fortunate as most children did not receive schooling and child labour was the norm.

Schooling in the colony was dominated in the early part of the 19th century by the four main religions, Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian. Fees were charged.

It was not until the late 1830s that Governor Bourke introduced the non-sectarian Irish National School system, open to children of all faiths. This would become the foundation for the public education system.

The Public Instruction Act of 1880 introduced free and compulsory elementary education for all children, effectively killing off child labour. As well, the Act ended state aid to church schools. The old school to which Henry Wrensford had been appointed was now incorporated into the new public education system.

As the history of Newcastle East Public School is revealed we can see how its fortunes also reflected the development of the public education system that exists today. Its various name changes reveal much:

1816 Newcastle Charity School
1818 Christ Church School
1867 Christ Church Certified Denominational School
1883 Newcastle East Christ Church Public School
1886 Newcastle East Public School.

The school is a proud reminder of the strength and traditions of the public education system. Yet it is also a reminder of the sectarianism and all-too-powerful influence of religion in schooling that exists in Australia to this day.

Newcastle East Public School is well worth a visit even if it is just to view the heritage-listed buildings from the street.

As we view the sculpture garden with the 17 brass stools on which the young pupils of today sit, we can reflect on the school’s humble origins.

To Climb The Hill: A People’s History of Newcastle East Public School 1816–2016 is available for purchase from Newcastle East Public School and is also available for borrowing from the Federation Library.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

ACTU: Solidarity with Fijian brothers and sisters following Cyclone Winston

SPOCTU sends solidarity to Fijian brothers and sisters following Cyclone Winston

The South Pacific Council of Trade Unions (SPOCTU) expresses solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji who are suffering because of the unprecedentedly severe tropical cyclone Winston.
This is the worst storm in the history of Fiji and in the Pacific region, with wind speeds up to 325 kph.

With the death toll now at 44 and thousands in evacuation centres, unions from across the region are looking to how we can assist.

Poor areas across the country are experiencing damage to homes and sustained flooding, with serious interruption to food, water and electricity supplies. But the situation in villages in the northern and western coastal areas of Viti Levu is tragic.

In the town of Rakiraki, 95% of houses have been completely destroyed and hundreds of people are sheltering in the church, waiting for assistance by air or boat since roads are cut while food stores and in-ground crops are rotting.

The situation of smaller islands in the path of the cyclone, such as Koro, is even more desperate.

Pacific nations and communities are aware that catastrophic weather events are worsening because of climate change, and inaction by high-income country governments like Australia on greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbates the problem.

The catastrophic effects of extreme weather events are felt hardest by the poor.

The destruction of food crops and housing, and the loss of jobs across the country will continue to be felt long after the cyclone has passed.

Disasters of this nature require immediate relief responses, but also require longer terms reconstruction efforts, rebuilding homes and infrastructure, and replanting crops.

It will take considerable time and cost for people to be able to get back to work, with schools, factories, hospitals, farms and tourist facilities all damaged.

If Fijian unions request our help, we will stand by them.

AMWU: Qantas plans to ditch graduating Apprentices after record profits

The AMWU is backing 20 Qantas graduating apprentices whose future job security has been ripped away for short-term cost-cutting despite the airline this week posting a record half-year profit of almost $1 billion.

The AMWU and partner unions are demanding Qantas find full-time work for the 20 who were issued late last year with termination notices, becoming the first aircraft maintenance engineers in decades to complete training without secure full-time positions by the airline.

Under pressure in the Fair Work Commission, the airline extended their employment to March and scrambled together a mix of Jetstar jobs, 10 fixed-term contracts in Brisbane and four part-time jobs in Perth.

But that half-baked fix has caused huge disruption and uncertainty to men from Sydney and Melbourne with young families and other personal commitments, with at least four still left jobless.

A potential solution is if the airline pushes ahead with a plan to bring back in-house the maintenance work on equipment and plant that supports it’s fleet, which had been outsourced. More detail is expected to emerge in FWC discussions listed for today (Friday).

“These terminations by Qantas makes no sense whatever if it really is committed to retaining a viable engineering workforce so it can service its new generation aircraft fleets within Australia,” said AMWU Assistant National Secretary Glenn Thompson.

Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce announcing the airline's half-yearly profit had soared by 234 per cent.

Mr Thompson said the Qantas stance contravenes it’s union agreement, risks wasting more than $5 million invested in the men’s training and undermines the airline’s own future ability to service it’s aircraft.

It comes as the aviation industry expects the Asia-Pacific region to be desperately short of aviation engineers in coming years.

“It’s incredible that with an ageing workforce, Qantas is prepared to offload  younger, highly-skilled workers it has just invested in – these people are the airline’s future,” Mr Thompson said

The AMWU is acting jointly with the Australian Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union.

Mr Thompson said this was the second full year of Qantas apprentices to be trained to the upgraded AQF4 qualification framework, a recognition that the airline would have to keep constantly renewing topline skills if it was to service modern aircraft.

A 2015 industry report by the Australian Research Council found that there will be a 30 per cent shortfall in global aircraft maintenance capacity within a decade. It said if Australia wants to fill the  Asia Pacific shortage, we must quickly re-build our maintenance capability, including training.

The 20  apprentices range in age from early 20s to 42.

“I started at Qantas because I have a passion for airlines. I love the industry and don’t want to have to leave,” said Michael Angel, 42, who will have to leave his pregnant partner in Sydney if he takes up a position offered in Brisbane for 18 months.

Richard Catulong has worked for Qantas for 11 years, choosing to enhance his career by building on his trade as a trimmer with an aircraft engineer qualification.

“I’d be devastated if I had to leave the industry. I was in it for the long term,” said Mr Catulong, 32, who has a mortgage on the family home but no job offer as a trimmer or engineer.

Save National Library treasures – TROVE Under Attack

Treasure Trove: why defunding Trove leaves Australia poorer

From Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven

All swashbuckling pirates (and movie producers) know that if you want to find the treasure buried beneath the elusive X you first need a map. A charred fragment is no good: fortune only comes to those who hold enough pieces to follow the trail.

The National Library of Australia’s Trove service is that map for anyone wanting to navigate the high seas of information abundance. (You don’t even need to be a pirate.)

But our information plundering days may soon be over. Recently announced “efficiency dividends” mean that aspects of the Trove service will be scratched.

The news that Trove will face cuts has led to an outpouring of support on social media, with several thousand tweets using the #fundTrove hashtag.

So what exactly will we lose?

Trove pulls together metadata and content from multiple sources into one platform to make finding what you are looking for an efficient and successful experience.

As of February 25 2016, this includes information on over 374,419,217 books, articles, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives, datasets and more, expressing the extraordinarily rich history of Australian culture.

If, as someone interested in museums, I am looking for information on Sir Frederick McCoy, inaugural director of the National Museum of Victoria, a single Trove search reveals not just books and articles.

I’ll find information on archival collections at the State Library of Victoria and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, biographical entries from the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Encyclopedia of Australian Science, digital photographs, transcribed newspaper obituaries and images of documents such as a Geological Survey of Victoria map to which McCoy contributed.

Distributed content is available within seconds. The benefits to researchers, local and family historians, and the Australian community as a whole, is immense, resulting in over 70,000 unique visitors a day.

Yet, as The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday, staff have been told the federal government’s “efficiency dividend” will have a “grave impact” on the National Library. Aside from inevitable staff cuts,

The library will also cease aggregating content in Trove from museums and universities unless it is fully funded to do so.
This is the information equivalent to leaving money, or treasure, on the table.

Making Australia’s existing investment in information resources freely and efficiently available is not just a self-evident public good in terms of equality of access. The democratisation of information has clear benefits for innovation and the Turnbull government’s “ideas boom”.

Trove is a key piece of information infrastructure for many professionals, and this wealth of material isn’t behind a paywall or subscription service. There’s no requirement that users prove they are “bona fide” researchers (whatever that may mean).

It’s accessible to anyone with an internet connection; and the sources it draws on include more than the usual suspects. There’s content from small institutions and large, community collections as well as state-funded libraries, museums and archives.

In a sense Trove has been a revolutionary experience for those of us who rely professionally on access to high-quality information. Once our problem was that there was just too little to go on. Now there’s far too much.

Contrary to the myth of the lone researcher who loves spending hours scouring paper archives and libraries to discover “buried” or “lost” knowledge, humanities research isn’t primarily about the hunt for content. It’s about analysing, processing, interpreting, relating and synthesising useful content that has been found.

By dramatically reducing the time spent on the trail of content, Trove users spend less time hunting for the booty and more time working with the spoils.

Trove not only aggregates content, it provides sophisticated search capability to help narrow down thousands of results. It’s a focal point for the diverse community who help organise, correct and improve the information it contains.

For people and organisations with some coding skills there are also opportunities to harvest and process content via an API (application programming interface) to reveal new ways of looking at our shared heritage.

The Trove platform supports 21st-century innovation and agile practice. As a result, it has become essential and internationally renowned infrastructure for distributed, collaborative and responsive research into Australian society and culture.

As a past manager of Trove, Tim Sherratt, pointed out on Wednesday,

Trove is not going to be suddenly turned off.
But its relevance relies on constantly growing the knowledge and content it contains.

If the National Library puts Trove to the sword as a result of the government’s swashbuckling cuts, this innovative stash of content may end up dispersed and buried again, taking Australia off the map. That would definitely leave us poorer, an information desert island in an increasingly interconnected world.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Brough to resign

Former special minister of state Mal Brough has announced he will not recontest at the next federal election.

Local Liberal National Party members had backed Mr Brough to run again in the seat on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, but his endorsement was held up by the party's state executive.

The LNP said Mr Brough made his own decision to quit. The party's Queensland state executive is currently meeting in Brisbane and will soon open nominations for a new candidate.

Mr Brough has been under pressure for months amid ongoing investigations by the Australian Federal Police, who are examining if he played a role in Mr Ashby obtaining copies of the then-speaker's diary in 2012.

In an interview with 60 Minutes in 2014, Mr Brough appeared to admit he did ask Mr Ashby to procure Mr Slipper's diary, but under sustained questioning from Labor late last year he cast doubt on that admission, telling Parliament "what was put to air was not the full question".

First-term MP and member for Barton, Nickolas Varvaris, has not nominated to run again in the seat, with preselection nominations closing a week ago.

Senior Liberal sources confirmed that Mr Varvaris had failed to renominate.

Barton now looks likely to be lost to Labor after a redistribution put the seat nominally back in Labor’s hands.

Other MPs are getting nervous. The member for the critical western Sydney seat of Lindsay, Fiona Scott, is considered highly vulnerable and is facing a backlash from pro-Abbott supporters for defecting to Mr Turnbull.

The two Liberal-held Central Coast seats are also in doubt as is the other Western Sydney seat of Macarthur, held by Russell Matheson.

The bell-weather seat of Eden Monaro is also now considered a high risk of being lost by Peter Hendy.

They say frigate – I say frig it.

A poem by John Tomlinson

They are raising our military spending to two per cent of our GDP 
they are going to raise the money from the likes of you and me.

They’ll have to cut back pensions and unemployment benefits
they have to cut back education and increase budget deficits.

They’ll have to close some hospitals and sack a thousand doctors
but we will be so happy when we see their brand new helicopters.

They are going to buy twelve submarines and they are getting drones
they’ll be able to kill at will for fun and thrill, I feel it in my bones.

Be empowered to capture asylum seekers and impoverished refugees
to torture them and drive them mad on Islands overseas.

They’ll be able to pollute the skies and stuff up our clean seas
and on the way they’ll guzzle fuel - raising temperatures by degrees.

They are mad of course – it’s sad of course, 
they will make everything much worse.

TUC: UK workers gave bosses £31.5 billion of unpaid overtime

26 February 2016

UK workers gave their bosses £31.5 billion of unpaid overtime last year, according to a new analysis of official statistics published by the TUC today (Friday).

More than five million people put in an average of 7.7 hours extra work a week in unpaid overtime in 2015. This would add up to £6,114 a year each if they were paid the average wage for those hours.

The TUC’s 12th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day is the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime would start getting paid if they worked all their unpaid hours from the beginning of the year.

To mark the day, the TUC is asking workers to take a proper lunch break and leave on time. Managers could lead by example and also think about how they can move away from over-reliance on their staff’s unpaid overtime.

The TUC study reveals that men work 1.1 billion unpaid overtime hours a year, compared to 0.9 billion hours for women. Around one in five (19.2%) men work unpaid overtime, averaging 8.5 hours per week. A similar percentage of women (19.5%) also put in unpaid hours. Despite the fact that many women work part-time the average for those undertaking unpaid overtime is still 7.1 hours a week.

People aged 40 to 44 are most likely to do unpaid overtime, with more than one in four (26.9%) in this age group putting in unpaid hours compared to an average of one in five (19.4%) for all UK workers.

Public sector workers contributed £10.8 billion of unpaid overtime last year. Public sector employees make up a quarter (25.7%) of total employees but produce a third (33.6%) of all unpaid overtime.The most unpaid overtime is done by teachers and education professionals (with more than half of them working an average of 11.9 hours unpaid every week), followed by financial institution managers  (11.2 hours), production managers (10.3 hours), functional managers such as financial, marketing, personnel managers (10.1 hours), and managers in health and care services (9.9 hours).

Unpaid overtime workers in London and the West Midlands put in the most free hours, clocking up 8.2 hours a week (compared to the national average of 7.7 hours). They are followed by staff in the North West and Wales who put in 7.9 hours unpaid overtime a week, and those in the East Midlands who spend 7.8 hours a week working for free.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Too many workplaces tolerate a long-hours culture. That is why we are calling on employees to take a stand today on Work Your Proper Hours Day and take a full lunch break and go home on time.

“We do not want to turn Britain into a nation of clock watchers. Few people mind putting in extra effort from time to time when it is needed, but it is too easy for extra time to be taken for granted and expected day in day out.

“I would urge anyone worried about a long-hours culture in their workplace to join their union, to make sure they are represented and their voices are heard.”

The TUC has designed a calculator at where employees can enter their actual hours each week alongside the hours they are contracted to do, plus their annual salary, to find out when their unpaid overtime comes to an end and when they start being paid for the job they are contracted to do.

Turnbull proposes $195 Billion for Arms Race

The Turnbull government will spend $195 billion to expand Australia’s military might in the next decade to ensure it becomes “powerful on land and in the skies and more commanding both on the seas and beneath them”.

Under a swathe of new spending programs announced on Thursday, Mr Turnbull said Australia needed to invest in its defence forces and industries to preserve peace and prosperity in its region.

The big splurge – announced in the 2016 Defence White Paper – is bound to exert more pressure on other areas of government spending because the cost of Mr Turnbull’s proposals will add at least $30 billion to the former Abbott government’s estimates for the defence budget over the next 10 years.

Mr Turnbull said the massive spend was necessary because Australia was now facing its greatest defence challenges since the Second World War.

“In the next two decades, half of the world’s submarines and at least half of the world’s advanced combat aircraft will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region, in our region,” he said.

“And this complicates the outlook for our security and strategic planning.”


Mark Beeson Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia comments:

The white paper makes the rather large assumption that the US remains committed to, and the backbone of, a rules-based international order. One sincerely hopes this idea remains valid, as it is clearly in the interest of a secondary state like Australia that such an order continues.

And yet we need to remember that the US has a long history of flouting international rules and agreements when it suits it. The US’s refusal to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, for example, rather undermines its authority when dealing with China in an arena of pivotal importance to Australia.

Now, however, we have the real possibility that the US could be led by someone who is entirely contemptuous of the prevailing international order and enthusiastic about utilising American power for exclusively national ends – no matter what impact this may have on friend and foe alike.

The idea that Australia needs to update its defence capabilities to continue playing its supporting role looks less convincing as a consequence – not that this is likely to impinge on the conventional wisdom in Canberra.

The one slightly surprising feature of the white paper was the idea that an Australian defence industry might be an integral part of a national industry policy. While this is potentially welcome, one has to wonder whether electoral rather than strategic motivations didn’t inform this initiative.

More importantly, perhaps, while there may be much to be said for maintaining a manufacturing capability in this country, is military hardware the only thing we can think of? The weapons will almost certainly never be used and will only contribute to an escalating – ultimately futile – regional arms race in the meantime.

IndustriAL: Indonesian union adopts 40 per cent women quota


IndustriALL Global Union Indonesian affiliate, FSPMI, has adopted a 40 per cent quota for women in its leadership structures at its Congress on 10 February 2016.

The groundbreaking decision by the metalworkers’ union comes after a resolution made at the IndustriALL World Women Conference in Vienna in September 2015 to advocate 40 per cent representation of women in IndustriALL’s own structures.

FSPMI’s women’s committee has been campaigning hard to achieve the 40 per cent quota meeting regularly and lobbying the national body of FSPMI and its chairperson. In November 2015, more than 200 women met to strengthen demands for 40 per cent representation and to end tax discrimination against women workers.

In May 2014, women from Indonesian trade unions also voted for the 40 per cent quota in IndustriALL structures at the IndustriALL Asia-Pacific Women’s Conference.

IndustriALL’s director for women and assistant general secretary, Monika Kemperle, said:

We congratulate the FSPMI for taking this pioneering step, and the women who made it possible. Increased women’s representation will attract more women to join FSPMI and take part in union activities as well as harness the undoubtable power of women to organize and lead.

The FSPMI stated that:

Increasing the number of women in our union structure will strengthen us and our campaign to protect workers' rights.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

ACOSS: Government policies ignore children in poverty

Thursday 25 February, 2016

The Australian Council of Social Service today called for the Federal Parliament to reject proposals to cut the family payments of low income single parent and couple households, following the release of a new report showing that an extraordinary 19% of children aged 8-14 years are going hungry.

In addition, ACOSS has renewed its call for Australia to set a clear poverty reduction target as the core purpose of economic growth and job creation.

The Australian Child Wellbeing Project launched today, shows that although most middle years children are doing well, almost one in five children surveyed are falling behind and going hungry. These include, young people with a disability, young carers, materially disadvantaged young people, culturally and linguistically diverse young people, Indigenous young people, young people in rural and remote Australia and young people in out of home care.

“Our governments have forgotten that the core purpose of our family payment system is to protect against child poverty. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is the last leader to have placed child poverty at the centre of his Government's agenda. His legacy of a targeted family payments system has been eroded since then and is indeed under further attack," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“Policies of recent governments that have targeted vulnerable families, including single parents, have increased the risk of child poverty. Our Poverty in Australia report in late 2014 found about 603,000 or 17.7% of all children, and one in three single parent families, were living in poverty.

“ACOSS has long advocated for family payments to be simplified and targeted to families who need them most. Yet the Federal Government’s $4.26 billion cuts to family payments would have a devastating impact on some of the most disadvantaged parents and children, especially single parents and low income couple families.

“Our analysis shows the cuts currently before the Senate would see a sole parent, under 60, with one child over 13 years lose roughly $2500 per year or $48, and a sole parent with two children around $3000 per year or $58 per week.

“Most families with children under 13, including those in the ‘middle years’, will also be worse off due to the loss of supplements. The abolition of the $730 a year Part A supplement would only be partly offset by a proposed increase of $262 per annum to the Part A payment (resulting in a net loss of $468). The Part B supplement is $354 per family. A dual income family with one primary school aged child will be $468 a week or $9 a week worse off if it is abolished. A single income family with a child under 13 years will be $822 a year worse off, or $16 a week.

“It is estimated that about 130,000 single parents with older children will be adversely affected by the changes to Part B alone, some of who are already on very low incomes. The numbers affected and the extent of the income losses mean that the changes are likely to lead to an increase in child poverty, which is already concentrated in single parent families.

“This would be unconscionable and lead to greater levels of hardship and poverty, and more children going hungry.

“As the Australian Child Wellbeing Project report points out, 19% of young people who are going hungry are also more likely to miss school, report health complaints, bullying, and low levels of engagement at school. We urge the Parliament to block the Government’s legislation, as the consequences would be too great for children affected.

“ACOSS has put forward an alternative package of reforms to family payments designed to reduce child poverty, target payments more appropriately and reduce workforce disincentives. We call on the Government to withdraw the current bill and rethink its approach to families policy to ensure that low income families receive the assistance they need and children get the best start in life,” Dr Goldie said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Save TAFE: 65,000 Aboriginal students

Unions NSW: 2016 Annual Labour Law Conference – 25 February 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

12:00 PM – 03:00 PM

Sydney Trades Hal

We are excited with our 2016 program, Starting on the 25th of February and continuing on the 26th, which includes two key note speakers, Judy Scott and Greg Combet, and practical advice in key areas of substantive law affecting union members, and unions as registered organisations.

We have also note that the legislation regulating the continuing legal education requirements of practicing solicitors changed on the 1 July 2015, as per the Legal Professional Uniform Continuing Professional Development (Solicitors) Rules 2015 (NSW).

For your convenience, we note in the program the compulsory topics outside of our substantive law topics (ethics and professional responsibility, practice management and business skills, and professional skills).

Please send your registration form to Rose Docwra at Unions NSW by return email: ASAP.

7-Eleven Wages Scam Continues

After speaking out about rampant underpayment and 60-hour working weeks, former 7-Eleven employee Bharat Khanna is helping other international students avoid exploitation, including one who has been allegedly paid as little as 48 cents an hour.

Mr Khanna said 7-Eleven workers were still being exploited despite being paid hourly rates of up to $25 on paper. After being paid the correct rate, they were then asked to hand back about $9 per hour in cash to their managers, leaving them underpaid at rates of $16 per hour.

More than 20 workers at 7-Eleven franchises in Northern Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast have told Mr Khanna they are still being asked to hand back cash to franchise owners.

"It's all done verbally because they don't want to keep any records," he said. "On paper everything is good. When people say no to handing back the cash, they no longer have a job. People are still not getting pay slips or proper breaks."

Mr Khanna, who began a full-time job with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association this week, is touring university campuses in Sydney and Newcastle to raise the awareness of overseas students about their rights at work.

The SDA, which represents retail, fast food and warehouse workers, has partnered with United Voice, the union for hospitality workers and cleaners, to this week launch a national campaign and 131732 hotline with free advice for overseas students about workplace entitlements.

"The students want a job whether it pays them $10 or $15 per hour, they are ready to take it," Mr Khanna said. "They convert it into their own currency and think it's a big amount. But they later realise their expenses are high compared to what they are earning."

Mr Khanna said he knew of international students who have failed expensive university subjects because they have kept working excessive hours for meagre salaries.

"My concern is that the exploitation is still happening and it's happening on a broader level. It's not just 7-Eleven who are doing it," he said.
"I would say the franchisee model is very bad in this country."

The SDA's national secretary Gerard Dwyer said the new Welcome to Work campaign would target international students at university orientation weeks around the country to support them in their study and work.

"Telling them that there is no other choice but to work long hours for little pay or else they will have their visas cancelled is completely immoral," Mr Dwyer said.

Mr Dwyer said a new amnesty for 7-Eleven workers appearing before a Senate inquiry into the exploitation of 7-Eleven workers should be extended to all international workers to prevent them from being deported for breaching their visa conditions by working more hours per week than permissable because their pay rates were so low.

Mr Dwyer said a key to the problem was head office taking a 50 to 56 per cent cut of a franchise owner's profits.

"This gives franchisees the incentive, some would say the imperative, to pay below legal wages," he said.

10 THINGS you need to know about working in Australia

  • If you're on a student visa, you are only allowed to work 40 hours per fortnight when your course is in session. During break periods you may work unlimited hours.
  • You should receive a pay slip listing your hours, wages, and any tax paid to the government – even if you get paid in cash.
  • You are entitled to a minimum wage.
  • You are entitled to extra money if you work nights, weekends or public holidays.
  • You must obtain a Tax File Number to be able to work.
  • Your employer cannot force you onto an individual contract.
  • You cannot work until you have commenced your course.
  • Your employer can't pay you in goods or services.
  • If you earn more than $450 per month your employer must pay superannuation.
  • You are allowed to join your union.

Read more:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

MUA: Let’s help our local shipping industry to stay afloat

Posted by Communications Team on February 23, 2016
Feb. 23, 2016

I went to sea at 17-years-old. You could say the salt runs in my blood.

I was a seafarer, my late father was a seafarer, his father was a seafarer and so was his father before him. My brother and sister still go to sea, as does my partner. But sadly, this is where it will probably end. 

My one-year-old daughter Billy Rose will most likely not have the same opportunity to take up a seafaring career unlike her forebears, and to me, this is heart-breaking.

There’s a lot of mystery around seafaring and the public is generally not aware of the importance of having a domestic shipping industry.

There’s a whole host of arguments around maintaining a strong merchant navy, particularly in times of conflict, but none of those arguments seem to be resonating, either because people are distracted, or they too are worried about the future of their jobs and the prospects for their children.

Last week, five seafarers aboard the CSL Melbourne - a cargo ship which trades exclusively between Gladstone and Newcastle - were removed by up to 50 NSW police. Not only was this a waste of tax-payer’s money, it should send chills down the spine of every worker in this country.

These blokes were not terrorists, or thugs, they were just five crewmembers who had taken it upon themselves to take a stand, to tell the public, the Government and their employer that being replaced by developing world workers on as little as $2-an-hour, was not acceptable.

Are we entering a new era of industrial relations, whereby one day you’re working, paying tax, providing for your family and the next the police are marching you straight to the long-term unemployment queue?

No Australian worker can or should be made to compete with $2-an-hour. It’s not just the paltry wage, either. I have been aboard some foreign ships, berthed right here in Newcastle, the conditions on which would shock anyone with an ounce of compassion. 

I’ve talked to seafarers who have shown me depleted stores with only rotting vegetables and the only protein being made up of the fish caught over the deck. I’ve been privy to tales where drinking water is rationed and anything above the ration is charged at $5 per 2 litre bottle.

The withholding of their already dire wages is more commonplace than not because they have no recourse. And this is what big multi-nationals and their cheerleaders in government want workers to receive in the name of maintaining ‘global competitiveness’.

The company which chartered the vessel – Pacific Aluminium – is crying poor. They say their hand was forced.  Let’s keep in mind that Pacific Aluminium is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a mining company with bigger half-year profits than the GDP of Switzerland. That’s profit, not revenue. So forgive my lack of sympathy.

However, my main gripe is with the government, now under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.  His government has not only allowed Pacific Aluminium to replace its Australian workers, they have actively enabled it by granting a special licence to the company to contravene Australia’s shipping legislation.

The route of the CSL Melbourne was domestic only, no different to a truck carrying alumina from the Queensland refinery to the smelter at Tomago. If the government hands these licenses to shipping companies, who is to say they won’t find a loophole to allow this to happen in other industries?

Whose job will be next?

Glen Williams, Maritime Union of Australia Branch Secretary

- See more at

ANMF: Urgent re-think needed on families in detention policy

Monday 22nd February, 2016

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has expressed its concerns about the future of baby Asha and her family and is calling on both the Turnbull Government and the Opposition to urgently reverse the inhumane policy of keeping children and their families in indefinite detention.

Despite baby Asha being discharged from hospital into community detention, Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the ANMF remains deeply concerned about the Government’s intentions for the future of asylum seekers currently on shore. In a morning radio interview, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton answered that ‘people will go back to Nauru’ after being asked about the baby’s future.

“Although Minister Dutton has temporarily responded to the urgent calls of health professionals and the community, we are extremely worried that the Minister is planning to send baby Asha back to Nauru once the heat dies down,” Ms Thomas said today.

“And our concerns extend beyond the safety and welfare of baby Asha and her family, our concerns are for the health of all asylum seekers and the harms caused by immigration detention.

‘We welcomed the opportunity to be part of the discussion at the AMA-convened Forum of health professionals held in Sydney yesterday, which called for a ‘moratorium on asylum seeker children being sent back to detention centres and the immediate release of all children from off-shore and on-shore detention into the community where they can be properly cared for.’

“The ANMF has a long history of campaigning against the detention of refugees and asylum seekers; at the ANMF’s Biennial National Conference last year, our members unanimously passed a series of resolutions condemning current immigration detention policy and last year’s Border Force Act, preventing nurses and doctors from speaking up about the deplorable conditions in detention centres. So we did not hesitate to stand with the AMA on this issue.

“At the Forum, nurses and doctors described the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers they had witnessed; unsanitary and dangerous conditions and lack of access to even basic health care. They warned about the physical, mental and emotional horrors children are suffering in detention, a child as young as six trying to suicide, or a 15-year-old sewing their lips together.

“Places like Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island, are no places for children. In fact, detention on these islands is a form of abuse.

“The Minister is on notice: he has a moral obligation to listen to the nurses, doctors and the other health professionals who continue to warn the Government about the dangers of keeping infants and children locked-up.

 “We will keep fighting for the release of children and their families in detention.”

CFMEU: Third CFMEU Official Walks Free

Tue 23/02/2016

The CFMEU has welcomed the decision of ‘not guilty’ in the Downing Street Local court in Sydney today in relation to a criminal charge laid against official Michael Greenfield by the Fair Work Building Commission (FWBC) about allegations said to have occurred in 2014.

The charge – ‘intimidating a Commonwealth official’ -was laid by the FWBC in mid 2015 over a meeting of workers Mr Greenfield attended as part of his job as a union organiser.

National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said this was another example of the blatant abuse of taxpayers’ money.

“The community is footing the bill to further the Government’s ideological agenda,” he said.

“This was a case that was sensationally aired at the Royal Commission in 2014 and the Fair Work Building Commission saw the opportunity to charge an official for the sole reason of creating bad publicity for the union.”

The ‘not guilty’ verdict followed the dropping of charges against ACT CFMEU official Johnny Lomax and Queensland CFMEU official Andrew Sutherland.

“In all of these cases, it was obvious from the outset that there were no grounds for the charges laid and no chance of success.”

“These actions seem to be designed to create a storm of negative publicity for the union without amounting to anything.

“It should be a concern to the community that the Turnbull Government is wasting public money to fulfill its political agenda of passing the ABCC bill.”

Monday, February 22, 2016

China To Close 1000 Coal Mines

China will aim to close more than 1,000 coal mines over the course of this year, with a total production capacity of 60 million tonnes, as part of its plans to tackle a price-sapping supply glut in the sector, the country's energy regulator said.

In a notice posted on its website, the National Energy Administration said the closures would form part of the plan released earlier this month to shut as much as 500 million tonnes of surplus production capacity within the next three to five years.

The notice, citing administration head Nur Bekri, said China would also aim to tackle overcapacity in the thermal power sector this year by controlling new builds.

As part of its power market reforms, China would also further promote a scheme allowing suppliers to enter into direct power sales agreements with consumers, and would also work to reduce power prices this year, it said.

Spain: Exhuming Civil War history

A 90-year-old Spanish woman wrapped in a fur coat and woollen scarf stood over a deep open grave and murmured "my father" to the unearthed skeleton lying at the bottom.

Ascension Mendieta's trade unionist father Timoteo was shot in 1939 in the months after the Spanish Civil War and buried in a mass grave in the corner of Guadalajara's town cemetery.

His grave was the first to be dug up on orders of an Argentine judge in a lawsuit seeking redress for crimes committed during the 1936-39 civil war and the four-decade dictatorship of General Francisco Franco that followed.

Mendieta’s efforts to give her father a proper burial could trigger a string of similar exhumations.

Mendieta talks here to Rene Pacheco, member of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH).

A member of ARHM holds a human skull during the exhumation.

The case illustrates how Spain is struggling to come to terms with a past, which is fading from living memory but leaves a mark on current affairs.

An amnesty law, drawn up to smooth the country’s path from dictatorship, pardoned political crimes committed in the past. But the lack of accountability means hostilities were never laid to rest.

A Spanish Republican flag lies in the cemetery.

The antagonism between the two sides remained during the transition to democracy in the 1970s, resulting in deep divisions between left and right in a two-party system that dominated Spanish politics for decades.

Spaniards turned in droves to new parties in a December national election, breaking the status quo and ushering in a new political era that has so far left Spain without a government but is forcing different factions to seek consensus.

Historians estimate as many as 500,000 combatants and civilians were killed on the Republican and Nationalist sides in the war. After it ended, tens of thousands of Franco's enemies were killed or imprisoned in a campaign to wipe out dissent.

Mendieta, who was 13 when her father died, travelled to Buenos Aires in 2013 to give evidence about his death. She was one of hundreds who have used international human rights law to turn to an Argentine court to seek justice for crimes carried out during and after the civil war.

Here, Mendieta holds a carnation during the exhumation of her father's remains.

"It has always troubled me how he may have fallen into the grave - face up, face down," she said. "Now we can give him a decent burial like everyone deserves. Not just dumped in there like a dog."

Spain, in common with many Latin American countries in their move from dictatorship to democracy, passed the amnesty law in 1977 to draw a curtain over the violence.

The United Nations and human rights organisations have urged Spain to revoke the law. But Spain has stood by the legal embodiment of the so-called "Pact of Forgetting", which many see as a necessary price to have paid for the transition to succeed.

A campaign of retribution would only have left the country dangerously polarised, that point of view holds.

A member of ARMH shows a button during the grave’s exhumation.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said it was unlikely this case would have any impact on the amnesty law.

A Guadalajara town hall spokesman said further exhumations could only be carried out by court order. The Spanish regional court that approved the opening of the grave on the orders of the Argentine judge was not able to comment on the matter.

Members of ARMH look for evidence during the exhumation.

Argentine Judge Maria Servini is looking to override the amnesty law to seek justice for Franco-era crimes ranging from torture to extra-judicial killings in a lawsuit opened in 2010.

Spain itself used the international law in 2005 to prosecute Argentine naval officer Adolfo Scilingo in a Spanish court for crimes against humanity during that country's "Dirty War".

Carmen Benito Alcantarilla holds a picture of her uncle, Valentin Alcantarilla Mercado.

Spain's most famous human rights judge, Baltasar Garzon, played a leading role in the trial, which led to Argentina's 1987 amnesty laws being overturned.

Garzon opened an inquiry into Franco-era crimes in 2008 but later dropped the case - an example of the issue's political sensitivity.

The past impinges on politics at many levels - Madrid's leftist mayor and the right-wing head of the regional government are currently in a dispute over the removal of monuments and plaques linked to Franco's Spain.

Spain's former Socialist government, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, passed a law in 2007 aimed at recognising victims of both sides of the war, including financing the exhumation and reburial of victims of political violence.

At the request of Judge Servini, a Guadalajara court authorised the exhumation of the grave, which contained 22 bodies of people believed to have been killed by Franco's forces in the months after the end of the civil war.

Archaeologists started to dig on 19 January, working from a town hall ledger that meticulously noted in a copperplate hand the names, ages and position of those buried in the town cemetery.

Timoteo's body is believed to be the 19th or 20th of the vertically stacked bodies in that grave. As archaeologists worked on digging them up, dozens of families came to the site to find out about relatives they believe to be buried there.