Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Goodbyy Neoliberalism : Dr John Falzon

Banking Royal Commission – Next steps

When Kenneth Hayne spins down the driveway at Yarralumla on Friday morning with a freshly minted copy of his latest tome for His Excellency the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, it will mark the beginning of a new era.

Well, at least for a little while.

Given the extreme lack of resources and the extraordinary time constraints, the extent of the revelations unearthed by Mr Hayne's Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry has been nothing short of breathtaking.

Even if the commissioner's recommendations are implemented in full, permanent change will be more difficult to achieve.

For it has always been difficult for any political edifice to withstand a concerted onslaught from the sheer weight of wealth.

Crime and punishment

Theft. It's such a harsh word. So emotive and with so many legal ramifications. For ordinary criminals, it holds the prospect of incarceration, personal ruin and a social stigma that can last generations.

Hayne's interim report

Royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne has slammed the banks' culture of greed as the root cause of much wrongdoing.

But in the world of banking and high finance, it's become an all-encompassing philosophy over the past few decades, one not merely accepted but expected.

To survive and prosper in the world of modern banking, it was necessary to embrace the system of bonuses and the all-consuming sales-driven incentive programs.

In his interim report, the royal commissioner identified the root cause.

"Too often, the answer seems to be greed — the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty. How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead to be explained?" the royal commissioner wrote.

Early on in the hearings, the Big Four banks and AMP reluctantly admitted they had deliberately charged fees without any intention of delivering services. All up, they reckoned it amounted to around $220 million between them.

Then came revelations that dead people were being fleeced, including paying for life insurance no less.

Last September, AMP admitted to robbing 4,645 deceased Australians.

On Friday, AMP fessed up to an extra $200 million in compensation costs.

All up, total remediation, now sits at around $750 million. That's for AMP alone. Add in the ancillary costs, and the company is on the rack for around $1.5 billion.

Broking analysts now see a potential remediation bill of up to $6 billion across the industry.

Little wonder the industry used every ounce of its political muscle to fight against a royal commission.

Bottom of the barrel

Vast amounts of wealth have been hoovered up from the general populace, much of it going to executives and investors.

Every new scandal of the past 20 years — foreign exchange rip-offs, overcharging and fee gouging on everything from credit cards to accounts and advice, rigging markets from currency to interest rates and even gold, predatory lending, unfair foreclosures, hidden commissions on superannuation, financial advisors, mortgage brokers, et al — has thrown up the same excuse.

Just a couple of bad apples.

Rather than an excuse, it's a pretty accurate explanation of exactly what's happened. For a couple of bad apples really can spoil the entire load, as ethylene gas causes apples to ripen and then mould.

That mould quickly spreads to healthy apples in search of food. Before you know it, you have a barrel, rotten to the, um, core. And if the barrels are stored close together, say four or five in row, well, you get the picture.

As the royal commission has shown, the entire financial system has become infected, terrifically illustrated by the procession of perplexed executives leaving the witness box stunned and seemingly incapable of seeing the injustice being held before them.

It was all just standard practice.

As if Robin Hood switched sides

What Mr Hayne has exposed is not something peculiarly Australian. It's global. Arguably, it has been worse in the US and across Europe, at least in scale.

APRA's tough talk, light touch

The banking regulator's report into the Commonwealth Bank talks tough, but its actions don't match its words, writes Ian Verrender.

It now is clear that in recent decades, globally we have witnessed one of the greatest redistributions of wealth of any period in human history. It's as if Robin Hood switched sides.

Vast amounts of wealth have been hoovered up from the general populace, a significant portion of it illegally.

Much of it was fed into the extravagant bonus payments of executives, with the rest showered back to investors in the form of dividends.

The bonus systems, the incentive payments were extended way down the line; a system designed to keep employees focussed on extracting as much cash as possible.

Perversely, given our compulsory superannuation system and its over-reliance on domestic shares, even those being gouged ended up getting a tiny rake-off; via dividends into super funds.

Hayne's plan to pull banks into line

Can it be stopped?

You'd have to be naive to think so. Slowed maybe. But here are some of the measures the royal commissioner is likely to recommend to pull our financial system into line.

Criminal charges. At various key points in the public hearings, the C word was raised, to the horror of those in the stand.

The end of trailing commissions and an overhaul of bonus payments and asset fees. Financial planners and mortgage brokers will be forced to put client interests first when selling superannuation, insurance and mortgage products; an alien concept to some.

Proper expenditure tests for borrowers. Banks and lenders no longer will be allowed to offer lines of credit to those who cannot afford the repayments.

An overhaul of the regulators. The abject failure of our regulators, particularly the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, to pursue criminal activity and enforce the law was repeatedly highlighted. Expect new powers and greater penalties.

Will our banks take it lying down?

The golden era in Australian banking is coming to an end, at least from an investor viewpoint, for the royal commission's recommendations can result in only one thing: reduced earnings.

Will anyone be punished?

The banking royal commission has shown evidence of lies, deceit and fraud. But will any wrongdoers from the big end of town end up in jail? asks Phillip Lasker.
That means lower share prices and curtailed dividends. AMP slashed its dividend by 70 per cent on Friday.

What many fail to understand is that if the Hayne royal commission improves the system's integrity, ultimately that will improve its resilience and put it on a more sustainable footing.

The irresponsible lending practices of our major banks — which have around 60 per cent of their total loans invested in Australian real estate — have pushed our property prices to astronomical levels and elevated Australian household debt to world record levels.

It's created a dangerous bubble with a negative feedback loop and laid the foundation for a potentially catastrophic domestic financial crisis.

The question is, how long will our political system be able to withstand the relentless lobbying from a rich and powerful sector to wind back any restrictions on profiteering?

A decade ago, modern banking brought the global economy to its knees. The American public demanded greater oversight and a tight leash. The answer was the Dodd Frank legislation.

In May last year, President Donald Trump, with the help of some Democrats, rolled back many of those restrictions.

Money has a wonderful way of dulling the memory.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Scullion shifts deck chairs on CDP

Scullion shifts deck chairs on CDP
24 January 2019

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has announced superficial changes to the deeply flawed and racially discriminatory Community Development Program, which his office has previously described as ‘a resounding success’.

The minister claims that the changes will reduce the obscene rates of penalties being handed out to workers under the scheme, which have been shown to be highest in areas with a higher Indigenous population.

In the Milingimbi/Ramingining region of the Northern Territory, where the population is 99.8% Indigenous, the program distributed 15 penalties for each participant in 2017.

In the Western Tablelands of Queensland, where the population is 29.3% Indigenous, the program averaged 1.9 penalties per participant.

The CDP forces unemployed people in remote areas to work for free, sometimes for for-profit companies for 25 hours per week, without any basic workplace entitlements, the protection of OHS legislation, or federal worker’s compensation.

The ACTU does not believe that the proposed changes will do much to help CDP workers given the program is systemically flawed and no amount of tinkering will change that fact.

The ACTU calls on the Morrison Government to follow the lead of the ALP and the Greens and scrap the program.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Indigenous Officer Lara Watson:

  • “This program forces people to work for no pay, with no protection if they are injured, and none of the basic employment entitlements like superannuation and leave. That’s the central issue and these changes do not address it.
  • “This program has devastated communities, reduced employment opportunities and forced people into poverty and hunger.
  • “The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government has an appalling record on Indigenous affairs but this program stands alone as an example of outright systemic racism.”
  • “The First Nations Workers Alliance has shown that when workers pull together they can win, and we look forward to a new government working with communities to bring in a new approach to creating jobs in remote communities."

Germany – Phasing out coal power by 2038

The German government has welcomed an official proposal to phase out the country’s coal-fired power stations by 2038, saying it would act quickly to implement the recommendation.

The proposal put forward by the government-appointed commission, which was announced on Saturday, would see Germany join a growing number of countries to have decided to end the use of coal, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions.

But it is likely to place a big burden on the German taxpayer, requiring huge compensation payments to coal miners, coal-producing areas and the operators of power stations that will be closed as a result of the new policy.

German economy minister Peter Altmaier said the commission’s proposals were a “strong signal” that was good for “the economy and the climate”. The deal would mean “less CO2, more new jobs, reliability of supply and affordable [electricity prices]”, he tweeted.

He told the Bild am Sonntag tabloid he was planning to table a bill in the next few weeks to implement the commission’s findings.

Germany was long viewed as a champion in the fight against climate change, but its slowness in exiting coal has dented that reputation. It is more dependent on coal than most other western economies, and still boasts a large domestic lignite mining industry. Lignite, or brown coal, is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels and has long been a target for green campaigners.

Germany’s energy dilemma was further complicated by the government’s decision in 2011 to exit nuclear energy by 2022, a move that takes out another reliable source of power.

Power plants that run on coal and lignite currently account for about 42 gigawatts of generation capacity, and produce 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity. Under the pathway proposed by the commission, coal capacity would be reduced to 30GW by the end of 2022 and to 17GW by the end of 2030.

The lost capacity from nuclear and coal is supposed to be largely replaced by renewable sources such as wind and solar, which are set to account for 65 per cent of power generation in Germany by the end of the next decade.

Australia Day Protests

“You fellas come out one day of the year, which is fantastic, but we feel this every day. And we need you every day … it is upon you from today to decide whether you want to come out once a year and protest or you act every single day to change what this country is about.”

The crowd estimates ranged from 5,000, an early figure given by Victoria Police, and 80,000, cited by organisers. At its longest point, it stretched two blocks down Swanston Street, from Bourke Street to Flinders Street station.

Large protests were also held in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart and Perth, and survival day events in Adelaide and Darwin.

The academic and activist Gary Foley told the crowd, the majority of whom were non-Indigenous, not to go away feeling “self-satisfied”.

He said that if everyone at the march read up on the history of Australia and then told 10 more people, “next year we would have half of Melbourne on our side”.

The march organiser Meriki Onus urged the crowd to stay behind strict marshal lines and not engage with a reported counter-protest run by far-right groups in Federation Square.

That protest had about 10 participants and was dispersed by police before the main march turned down Swanston Street.

Two people, a man draped in an Australian flag and a woman holding a sign that said “To defend my country was once called patriotism; now it’s called racism” remained at the Flinders Street station steps.

They were surrounded for about 20 minutes by marchers chanting “go home, fascists”, before the police had them move on on. A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said it was too early to comment on whether any charges were being laid.

Tens of thousands of people also attended a rally in Sydney, where the early crowd estimates were put at up to 50,000, while thousands more marched in Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, and Perth.

Japan’s nuclear export business shaken to the core

Japan’s nuclear export business shaken to the core
The shadow of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown hangs ominously over a series of setbacks

Thu, Jan 24, 2019, 05:15
David McNeill Tokyo

The stricken   Fukushima  nuclear power plant in  2011. The accident at the   plant was unleashed by a devastating earthquake and tsunami. Photograph:  Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty ImagesThe stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. The accident at the plant was unleashed by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Just two years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, was gamely trying to make a virtue out of a catastrophic liability. Japan had a “duty” to share the lessons of the 2011 triple meltdown to the world, he said in Turkey, announcing a two trillion-yen public-private deal to construct a nuclear-power plant near the Black Sea.

Far from being mortally wounded by the Fukushima disaster, Mr Abe was betting that Japan’s battle-hardened nuclear industry could capitalise on it.

That bet looks increasingly shaky. With costs for the Turkey project running at more than twice their initial estimate, Itochu, a Japanese trading house and major investor, got cold feet. Last December, the Japanese government pulled the plug. This week, Hitachi suspended its involvement in the Wylfa nuclear power project in Wales, throwing Britain’s energy plans into chaos.

It’s just the latest setback for Japan’s nuclear export industry. In 2016, Vietnam’s government cancelled a plan by a consortium of Japanese firms that included Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO, the operator of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi plant) to build a four-reactor plant in central Ninh Thuan Province, citing worries about safety and costs.

In 2017, Toshiba was forced to offload Westinghouse Electric, its bankrupt American nuclear arm. Only a decade before, after beating out General Electric for Westinghouse, Toshiba had giddily predicted its nuclear business would more than quadruple. Now it is out of the new reactor business for good. The company abandoned its British nuclear operations last November.

Fukushima’s shadow hangs over these failures. Demands for safer plants have fuelled expensive overruns and sent investors fleeing. One of the few bright spots was Britain, where Hitachi was in talks with the government to build a two-reactor plant in Anglesey, on the coast of Wales (the Japanese conglomerate bought Britain’s Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd in 2012).

Begging bowl

Ominously, however, Hiroaki Nakanishi, Hitachi’s chairman, took a begging bowl to 10 Downing Street last year, with the implicit threat of withdrawal from the project. The Conservative government responded by offering to underwrite two trillion yen, roughly two-thirds of the price tag, but it appears that wasn’t enough. The Japanese company reportedly can no longer find investors. Hitachi has also pulled out of building of a nuclear power plant in Gloucestershire.

The Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in northwest Wales. This week, Hitachi suspended its involvement in the power station, throwing Britain’s energy plans into chaos.

The Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in northwest Wales. This week, Hitachi suspended its involvement in the power station, throwing Britain’s energy plans into chaos.

For years, Japan poured money into commercial nuclear power despite the accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). By 2011, it had 54 operating reactors, and several more under construction or planned (Toshiba alone was a contractor or key component supplier for 20 of these reactors).

That should have put it in pole position to harvest a global renaissance in atomic energy, but Fukushima has shaken the industry’s credibility, says Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former climate change negotiator for the Japanese government.

Competition is biting too. China, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the 70 nuclear plants under construction around the planet, is cheaper; Russia sweetens deals by putting up most of the initial financing for reactors and recouping costs by operating them over decades.

Massive leg-up

Whatever the route, getting plants up and running requires a massive leg-up from the state. The government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) was to have financed 70 per cent of the Turkey project. The bank is also on the hook for much of the 1.1 trillion yen in loans Japan has tagged for the Anglesey plant. Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, another state-backed outfit, would probably have guaranteed Japan’s loans.

Much is at stake for both governments. Mr Abe views the project as the “biggest litmus test” of Japan’s nuclear export policy, said an official with the ministry of economy, trade and infrastructure. Britain is keen to show that despite Brexit, it can still lure and keep big foreign investors: Panasonic, Sony and Toyota all have factories in Wales.

Japanese companies have not completely abandoned the nuclear field. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is hoping to strike deals in India, which is wary of China. Toshiba is talking to Energoatom, a Ukrainian power company, to supply turbine generators for use in its nuclear plants. And in an interview last Friday, industry minister Hiroshige Seko said Japan’s strategy of promoting nuclear exports will not change following Hitachi’s decision in Britain.

Yet, Japan has yet to lead a nuclear project to completion overseas. At home, the industry will probably never recover from Fukushima, says Takeo Kikkawa, a nuclear analyst at the Tokyo University of Science. “Costs will certainly keep rising.”

The Hitachi chairman, who is also head of Japan’s largest business lobby, the Keidanren, said at the start of this month the commercial opportunities for nuclear-plant manufacturers such as Hitachi were increasingly limited.

The upshot is that Japan’s nuclear industry is dying, says Kikkawa. “Everyone knows this, but nobody wants to admit it.”

Saturday, January 26, 2019

ANMF – Call For Pill Testing

Heading into the Australia Day long weekend and its traditional music festivals, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is calling for urgent national action on the introduction of pill testing trials after a series of deaths and overdoses this summer.
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said that for many years the ANMF and other key experts have advocated for drug and alcohol related harm minimisation measures. Many of those measures have been introduced and have proved to be very successful in preventing avoidable deaths and overdoses. It’s now time for the government to show national leadership and, in collaboration with frontline health experts, take serious action to introduce pill-testing trials.

“Supported by a significant volume of international evidence, Australian experts, nurses, doctors and others working in drug and alcohol services, are increasing their calls for pill-testing trials,” Ms Butler said.

Ms Butler said policing and law enforcement strategies, while necessary at times, were simply not effective in preventing harm.

  • “Australia has an internationally recognised reputation in its approach to harm minimisation with regard to drug and alcohol use but we are falling way behind in our approach to pill-testing.
  • “Politicians must respond to the evidence, and while many calls are being made on state Premiers to introduce pill-testing trials which would be useful, there must be national leadership and coordination on this issue.
  • “Countries in Europe have been pill-testing since the 1990s, it’s time Australia’s political leaders took notice and took action before more young lives are lost.”

The ANMF, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australasian College of Physicians, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, the Independent Member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps, Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale and Drug and Alcohol experts, are among those who are calling on state and Federal governments to implement pill-testing trials, with a number of music festivals being staged in coming weeks.

'Comfort women': anger as Japan paper alters description of WWII terms

Portraits of former comfort women who were sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the second world war
Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper has sparked anger among staff and readers after revising its description of wartime sex slaves and forced labourers from the Korean peninsula.

In a decision that critics said aligned it with the conservative agenda of the prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the Japan Times said it had used terms “that could have been potentially misleading” when reporting on the contentious subjects.

It was the latest media row about how to define notorious parts of the country’s wartime record.

The Japan Times, which marked its 120th anniversary last year, said in an editor’s note in Friday’s edition that it would ditch the commonly used term “forced labour” to describe Koreans who were made to work in Japanese mines and factories during its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

South Korea says there were nearly 150,000 victims of wartime forced labour, 5,000 of whom are alive.

The Japan Times said: “The term ‘forced labour’ has been used to refer to labourers who were recruited before and during world war two to work for Japanese companies. However, because the conditions they worked under or how these workers were recruited varied, we will henceforth refer to them as ‘wartime labourers.’”

The explanation appeared at the foot of an article about the South Korean supreme court’s decision this week to order Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate 10 former forced labourers. The ruling, and a similar decision last month, have soured ties between Tokyo and Seoul, with Japan’s foreign minister, Tarō Kōno, calling them “totally unacceptable”.

The Japan Times, whose motto is ‘all the news without fear or favour,’ said it would also alter its description of the comfort women – a euphemism for tens of thousands of girls and women, mainly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war.

The newspaper noted that it had previously described the victims as “women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during world war two”.

But it added: “Because the experiences of comfort women in different areas throughout the course of the war varied widely, from today, we will refer to ‘comfort women’ as ‘women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers’.”

Reporters and editors at the paper’s Tokyo headquarters greeted the decision with a mixture of anger and consternation. “People are pretty angry about the change and the fact that we were not consulted,” a Japan Times employee told the Guardian.

The revision has added to concern that sections of the media are bowing to pressure from rightwing politicians and activists to rewrite Japan’s wartime history and portray its actions on the Asian mainland in a more favourable light.

That movement has gathered pace since 2014, when the liberal Asahi Shimbun retracted articles about wartime sex slaves it had run in the 1980s and 90s that it admitted had been based on false testimony by Seiji Yoshida, a former soldier.

Campaigners pointed out that Yoshida’s discredited testimony did not in itself disprove the existence of wartime sex slaves.

Two months later, the Yomiuri Shimbun, a conservative broadsheet with a daily circulation of more than 10m, apologised for its previous use of the term “sex slaves” in its English-language edition. The newspaper said it would instead use the more ambiguous wording “so-called comfort women”.

Editors in the English-language division of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, are banned from using the term “sex slaves” and must instead refer to them as “people referred to as wartime comfort women”.

The editorial shift by the Japan Times comes soon after South Korea said it would dissolve a Japanese-funded foundation to support survivors, sparking outrage in Tokyo. The move, which in effect terminated a 2015 agreement to settle the countries’ impasse over sexual slavery, drew an immediate rebuke from Japan.

Sacked BHP - BlueScope workers return to Australia

Posted by Mua communications on January 24, 2019

The Maritime Union of Australia says a strategic shipping fleet makes sense fleet is essential on economic, employment and national security grounds, particularly for the transport of petrol and other liquid fuels, for which there is a critical national shortage that is becoming an international embarrassment.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said it is a national disgrace that the day before workers sacked from two ships in foreign ports begin arriving home, senior Coalition ministers and industry leaders are again trying to kill off coastal shipping and local jobs and replacing australian workers in an Australian industry with foreign visa workers

Earlier this month, BHP and BlueScope decided without consultation that the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance would be dumped immediately – with Australian ships having serviced BHP and subsequently BlueScope in this country for more than 100 years.

  • “After their infamous efforts to destroy car manufacturing in this country, senior ministers from the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government should be forced to come to Brisbane Airport tomorrow to explain to decent, hard-working Aussie workers and their families why their jobs don’t matter,” Crumlin said.
  • “This government issued the work visas knowing they would replace these Australian seafarers.”

Australia has been non-compliant with the International Energy Agency’s 90-day fuel stockholding obligation since March 2012 and the Federal Government has since ignored several key reports, with figures released earlier this month showing Australia now has just 22 days of petrol and 17 days of diesel on hand.

“The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government has been in power for more than five years and done absolutely nothing to address fuel security yet senior ministers blame everyone but themselves for their epic failure and are ideologically driven to send domestic shipping down the same path as the car industry,” Crumlin said.

The IEA mandates countries hold a stock in reserve “equivalent to 90 days of net imports” and Australia is the only developed oil-importing country without government-controlled stocks of crude oil or refined petroleum products.

  • “Australia is in a much worse position than when the Coalition came to power in 2013. There are now zero Australian-crewed tankers supplying fuel to our nation and just four refineries,” Crumlin said.
  • “This means we now import well over 90 per cent of our fuel and that will be 100 per cent before we know it unless government policy changes the direction of the industry.
  • “Australians would expect our Government to have a better plan and this would involve more refining here and Australian-crewed ships to carry it around the coast.
  • “This isn’t only a matter of fuel security but also national security. Unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.”

Crumlin said a number of inquiries and reports in recent years have touched on the important issue of fuel security, including the MUA’s report titled ‘Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty’ in December last year, written by shipping expert John Francis.

The ‘Running on Empty’ report found that Australia now relies on the equivalent of almost 60 full-time fuel import tankers to keep us supplied with petrol, diesel and jet fuel, which is now all carried on the international spot market, mainly from Korea, Singapore and Japan.

  • “The report found Australia’s reliance on foreign flagged tankers removes any opportunity for the Commonwealth to be able to requisition national flag tankers if necessary to secure minimum import or coastal distribution requirements following major economic or geopolitical disruptions,” Crumlin said.
  • “The cost of addressing this risk is comparatively low: even carrying Australia’s entire import volume on a fleet of Australian tankers would cost less than one extra cent per litre.
  • “The Australian government needs to support as a matter of urgency a number of Australian tankers as part of a national strategic fleet to ensure that some level of supplies can be maintained in the event of a crisis.”

Crumlin said Flag of Convenience shipping remains one of the world’s great tax avoidance scams, with ships exploiting cheap foreign labour and registering in dodgy jurisdictions such as Liberia, Mongolia and the Cayman Islands.

“Australian truck drivers aren’t forced to compete with $2 an hour workers on our nation’s roads, so why should our seafarers? And if the Coalition had any principles, why are cabotage provisions fine for aviation but not for shipping?” Crumlin said.

Qantas’ submission to last year’s the Senate red tape committee warned overseas carriers should not be allowed to operate on domestic routes in Australia as any changes would have substantial economic,  employment and operational risks.

"Put simply, this would be a disastrous trade negotiation strategy and deny Australian airlines a clear measure of certainty around which they can base long-term investment planning," it said.

Qantas also warned of safety risks flowing from airlines "operating in lower-cost safety regimes with different standards" and potential job losses.

  • “Australia should be tightening cabotage rules as it would protect local jobs, provide long term investment certainty and lower administrative and regulatory costs because Australian seafarers working in their own country do not require foreign visas,” Crumlin said.
  • “But it’s a simple case of double standards for unions the Government doesn’t like. The Trade Union Royal Commission along with the aggressive ongoing attacks from the ABCC and ROC are a timely reminder to working men and women in Australia that the Coalition doesn’t care for them,” Crumlin said.

ACTU – Federal court rejects Aerocare split-shift schedule

Federal court rejects Aerocare split-shift schedule
25 January 2019

Airport workers have had a huge win this morning against their employer Aerocare, with the Federal Court ruling that the workers could not be required to work more than one shift in each 24 hour period under the relevant Award. 

The employment arrangements at Aerocare had attracted widespread attention following accounts of workers sleeping in their workplace for a few hours between paid shifts.   

The Fair Work Commission will consider the ruling in determining whether a new enterprise agreement, which allows split shifts, leaves the workers "better off overall" compared to the Award. 

It will also be relevant to question of whether an existing agreement, that allows split shifts to be worked, should be terminated.

This is another blow to the broken, exploitative business model employed by Aerocare, which destroyed the quality of life of many airport workers.

Aerocare workers have stayed united and struggled for better conditions through the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and Australian Services Union (ASU) who fought the case in court.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:

  • “No one should be forced to work split shifts, forced to sleep at work rather than spending time with their families or friends, just to increase the profit margins of their employers.
  • “This is a great win for these workers and we welcome the decision of the court to uphold the rights of working people.
  • “When working people come together they can do anything, but workers shouldn’t have to be dragged before the courts to oppose exploitative practices.  We need better, faster mechanisms for dispute resolution.
  • “We need to change the rules so that all working people have the power to ensure that they are getting the pay rises they deserve and the conditions at work that all Australian workers should be able to expect.”

Invented the chiko roll? Aussies mock PM's Captain Cook announcement

Prime Idiot Scott Morrison has pledged $6.7 million to see a replica of James Cook's Endeavour circumnavigate the country. The only problem is, Captain Cook never circled Australia.

A day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government would spend $6.7 million to sail a replica of James Cook's ship the Endeavour around the country, Aussies have responded in the most Australian way possible - by hilariously mocking the announcement on Twitter.

Using the hashtag #WhatCookDid, Twitter users offered up satirical achievements of the controversial captain after Mr Morrison called the circumnavigation a "re-enactment of the voyage" of Captain Cook on ABC Radio - despite the fact Captain Cook never actually sailed around the entirety of Australia. 

While Captain Cook charted the east coast, Matthew Flinders was the first to sail around the country between 1801 and 1803.

As Twitter made fun of the announcement, opposition leader Bill Shorten accused Mr Morrison of having a "bizarre Captain Cook fetish".

"Mr Morrison has come to Queensland to get his historical facts wrong," Mr Shorten said.

The replica Endeavour will set sail from Sydney in 2020, stopping at 39 coastal locations and circling the country over 14 months.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Oxfam – More Billionaires – More Inequality

Australia's billionaires grew their combined wealth by $100 million a day last year, Oxfam has revealed as it calls for tax changes to close the growing gap between rich and poor.

The nation now has 43 billionaires worth $160 billion between them, while the top one per cent of Australians have more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent combined.

"Oxfam Australia is concerned there is no end in sight to this harmful trend that is concentrating ever more wealth in the hands of the already rich and powerful," the charity's chief executive Helen Szoke said on Monday.

The nation now has 43 billionaires worth $160 billion between them, while the top one per cent of Australians have more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent combined. Jessica Shaprio

"Australia is among the wealthiest nations in the world, yet the pervasive gap between the haves and have-nots persists. This inequality simply cannot - and does not need to - continue."

ACTU – Morrison Government Completely Unrepresentative

Morrison Government doesn’t represent working people
19 January 2019

A report released today reveals that Australian members of Parliament are far more likely than the general population to come from a narrow and elite range of professional backgrounds.
They’re also more likely than the general population to be white, male, born in Australia and university educated – and the problem is being driven by the conservative side of politics.

The Liberal party has only 11 more female MPs than it did 30 years ago - the National party only one more - while Labor has successfully quadrupled the number of women on its benches since 1988 through a quota system.

The number of MPs who entered Parliament from a teaching career has dropped dramatically. This change is particularly pronounced in the Liberal Party, where in 1988 more than 11 percent of Liberal MPs had a teaching background, that figure is now less than five percent.

Since 1988, the number of MPs in the Liberal Party with a background in banking and finance has risen to more than 16 percent, despite less than five percent of the population working in these sectors.

The peak body for working people has called for better representation of working Australians – more people with vocational qualifications, from a wider range of occupations, more women, more people from culturally diverse backgrounds and more people who were educated in public schools.

 Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:

  • “Our parliament should reflect the people who elect it. This means it should be more culturally diverse, represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, have more women, teachers, nurses, and tradespeople.
  • “We live in a diverse Australia – when we look at our Parliament we are not seeing this, we do not see all working and educational backgrounds represented.
  • “The Morrison Government is dead set on boosting representation of an elite few from big business and the banks while he’s ignoring the rest of us.
  • “The Morrison-led coalition Government has an obvious agenda - to disproportionately represent an elite few – big business, the banks. It is failing working people: They’re failing women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and those from other cultural backgrounds.
  • “It’s time for a Parliament that includes workers, includes women, and includes all people that make up our country.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

City of Melbourne switches to Renewable Energy

Melbourne has become the first city in Australia to have all of its council-owned infrastructure powered by renewable energy.

The City of Melbourne switched all its operations to renewable energy on 1 January. The power is supplied by the Crowlands windfarm near Ararat in western Victoria, which was funded through a power purchase agreement with the City of Melbourne and 13 other Melbourne councils and institutions.

The transition means that council libraries, gyms, childcare centres and buildings are now fully powered by renewable energy, as are all of the city’s street lights.

“It’s a pretty nice New Year’s resolution to go to 100% renewable energy,” the deputy mayor, Arron Wood, said.

The Yarra, Port Phillip and Moreland councils, as well as Australia Post, Bank Australia, the National Australia Bank, Melbourne University, Federation Square and Zoos Victoria were also part of the buying group and began their new energy contracts on the same day.

The group agreed to purchase 88GWh of electricity per year, about half of the energy that will be produced by the 80MW Crowlands windfarm.

Under the agreement 40% of the power will be purchased at a fixed price while 60% will be a market-based price that is renegotiated every two years.

“This will be a good hedge against future price rises,” Wood said.

The value of the contract is commercial in confidence but Wood said council was purchasing more than 19GWh per year, or about 23% of the total purchase agreement.

It was funded, in part, by efficiency measures including a $16m upgrade of the city’s 12,000 street lamps to LED lights, which is expected to shave $1m a year off the council’s power bills once the changeover is completed in July.

“When people say to me that it costs money to support renewable energy projects, well, we are actually paying for our renewable energy projects through our efficiency projects,” Wood said.

He said the council had created a “no frills” version of the power purchase agreement used by the group and was working with private corporations based in Melbourne who were interested in copying the idea.

“There will just be four or five in the buying group,” he said.

The remaining turbines are expected to be operational in May.

There are more than 40 large-scale wind and solar projects either under construction or with planning approval in Victoria, as well as more than 26 that are already producing electricity. The sector is on track to create 6,000 annual jobs.

Most of the new projects are funded through the state’s 650MW reverse auction but others, like Crowlands, were funded by private purchase agreements.

Last week the Andrews government approved a proposal for a $1.5bn, 17,000 hectare windfarm at Golden Plains, which is big enough to provide up to 10% of the state’s energy needs at less than $50/MWh.

Victoria is on track to exceed its renewable energy targets of generating 25% of the state’s electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020 and 40% by 2025, causing some environmental groups to say the 2030 target of 50% renewable energy is not strong enough.

MEAA – Solidarity with striking Broadway Workers

MEAA Equity stands in solidarity with American Actors’ Equity in their campaign to improve payment for development work on Broadway musicals.

Fair rates for development work are a standard condition in Australia, which were hard fought for and won by earlier generations of performers.

American Actors’ Equity has declared a strike against members of the Broadway League on new Broadway show development.

The strike is part of a bid improve pay and profit share for performers who participate in increasingly popular "lab sessions", a way to develop new Broadway productions.

American Equity has resolved that its members will no longer take part in lab sessions that have become an increasingly popular way for writers and performers to develop new productions, especially musicals. The strike also covers workshops and staged readings.

Weekly salaries under the lab agreement have been frozen at US$1000 per week since 2007. Amercan Actors’ Equity is seeking a pay raise on the current weekly rate and a 1% share of any profit after recoupment.

American Equity says the strike “follows media reports that 2018 was Broadway’s highest-ever grossing year on record”, and it has been trying to renegotiate the lab agreement with the Broadway League for nearly two years.

It is unacceptable that weekly salaries under the Broadway Lab Agreement have been frozen at $1000 for more than a decade.

MEAA Equity supports our American colleagues and calls on the Broadway League to reach a fair deal for performers working on show development by agreeing to increase the weekly rate and include a 1% share of any profit after recoupment.

In solidarity with our American colleagues, we have conveyed to the Broadway League that Australian performers will not support any runaway developments in Australia who are trying to break the strike.

This is an edited version of a statement of support sent to American Actors’ Equity.

Statement from ACTU Secretary Sally McManus on the ROC raids scandal

Statement from ACTU Secretary Sally McManus on the ROC raids scandal
15 January 2019

 “Michaelia Cash has serious questions to answer about her conduct. These are questions she has hidden from since October 2017.

  • "She has been subpoenaed to face allegations around abuse of power in court by the AWU.
  • “It is not acceptable in a democracy to use the power of the state to harass and intimidate working people’s representatives. That kind of behaviour belongs in a dictatorship.
  • “We must ensure that no Minister can ever again abuse their office and the powers of the agencies they oversee.”

ACTU BHP, BlueScope end 100 years of secure shipping jobs

16 January 2019

Corporate giants BHP and BlueScope have announced the end of a century of Australian-crewed iron shipping. 80 Australian seafarers on two vessels that carried iron ore from Port Headland in Western Australia to Port Kembla on the New South Wales south coast who are in the companies’ supply chain have been sacked.

The sacked Australian workers will be replaced by exploited international crews paid as little as $2 per hour.

The multi-national miners have destroyed an industry which provided secure fair-paying local jobs, while the Morrison Government has looked on and done nothing.

The conditions likely to be faced by the crews who replace them are appalling and have no place in Australia.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil:

  • “For 100 years, iron shipping in Australia has provided good, secure local jobs for Australian workers – BHP’s decision to end this long tradition seems to be motivated by greed.
  • “Good, steady jobs will be replaced by work on flag-of-convenience ships where pay can be as low as $2 per hour and workers’ rights are virtually non-existent.
  • “The Morrison Government’s refusal to act on flag-of-convenience shipping means that BHP is getting away with destroying local jobs.
  • “The overseas workers who will be crewing BHP ships in future are likely to be exploited, underpaid and at risk of serious injury or death. This is the world of work that the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government has created.
  • “We have written to BHP and BlueScope today calling on them to urgently meet with the ACTU and affected unions and immediately reverse this decision.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

UK – May and Brexit Face Uncertain Future After Historic Defeat in Parliament

But even if the government survives – which it is likely to do as it has the continuing support of the Northern Irish DUP – it has to come to terms with the biggest parliamentary defeat in the history of British democracy, delivered to the lynch-pin of its Brexit strategy.

Without the deal, if Brexit still takes place as planned on March 29, it will be a chaotic process that causes major and immediate damage to the UK's economy.

After eight days of debate the House of Commons rejected the deal that Theresa May negotiated to govern the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union by 432 to 202.

After eight days of debate, the vote on the Brexit deal was lost by 432 to 202, and Theresa May's government now faces a vote of no confidence called by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The previous worst-ever defeat for a British government was in 1924 when Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour minority government lost by 166 votes.

Scores of pro-Brexit defectors from May’s Conservative party doomed the deal, voting 'no' because they believe the deal did not deliver enough sovereignty or opportunity for the country.

They voted alongside most of Labour’s MPs who believed the deal was bad for the country and hope either to call a new Brexit referendum or to renegotiate a Brexit deal that keeps the UK much more closely tied to the EU.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

MUA – Sydney and Brisbane Wharfies to take Industrial Action over Push to Slash Workplace Conditions

Negotiations over a new workplace agreement covering Hutchison Ports workers in Sydney and Brisbane reached a stalemate after the company refused to back away from plans to slash wages and conditions, along with automating some roles and outsourcing other jobs.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the company’s demands include: a 2.5 per cent cut to superannuation; reductions to sick and parental leave; cuts to redundancy and long service leave; removal of income protection; wage cuts of up to $10 per hour followed by a wage freeze; and reductions to safety standards, including the loss of full-time first-aiders and removal of personal protective equipment.

MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said the attempt by this multi-national port operator to slash the pay and conditions of Australian workers left them with no choice but to take industrial action.

“The world’s largest stevedore, the same company that sacked 97 workers by text message in 2015, is now telling its Australian workforce that it wants to slash their wages and conditions,” Mr Smith said.

“If Hutchison gets its way, waterfront workers would be left 26 per cent worse off in retirement based on the company’s planned cuts to their superannuation entitlements, while redundancy payments would be halved for the average worker, as would long service leave.

“Not content to attack wages and conditions, Hutchison Ports are going after the safety of their workers, with a push to remove the full-time first-aiders who provide potentially life-saving treatment in an emergency, along with taking away basic personal protective equipment.

“On top of that, they want to cut wages by up to $10 per hour, impose a 12 month wage freeze, with pay rises of just 1 per cent a year after that.

“Our members refuse to sit back and watch as four-decades of hard-won conditions are stripped away by a greedy multi-national whose only concern is maximising its own profits.

“We will not accept an agreement that rips us off and reduces our standard of living, and the MUA is committed to using every industrial and legal tool at our disposal in our fight to protect conditions and safety standards on the waterfront.

“The actions Hutchison Ports highlight exactly why the Australian union movement has launched the Change the Rules campaign, to challenge the actions of big corporations who are increasingly using the broken workplace laws to attack the conditions of working people.”

ACTU – Proposed super changes put banks ahead of workers

10 January 2019

The changes to the superannuation system proposed by the Productivity Commission continue the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government’s ideological commitment to putting banks and big business above the interests of working people.

The recommendation to remove superannuation from the IR system is completely unacceptable and shows the ideological fanaticism which underpins this report.

The proposed changes would block working people from being represented in the system which manages their money, while handing a huge amount of power to financial regulators which the ongoing Banking Royal Commission has demonstrated are grossly ineffective at shielding working people from banks which regularly put profit before their own customers.

The evidence in the report vindicates the union movement’s position that the banks have no place in super due to their systemic under-performance.

Any system which is geared towards promoting the best performing funds would promote industry funds which have year after year outperformed all bank-owned funds, simply because they are run to enhance the retirement savings of their members, not the share price of the big banks.

The success and performance of not-for-profit industry funds has been largely due to their superior governance structure which sees unions as working peoples’ representatives and employers as joint custodians of Australians’ retirement savings.

Any attempt to dismantle this world-class model would inevitably damage the performance of these funds.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil:

  • “The proposed changes are all about giving more power to the big banks and have nothing to do with making sure more working people have a secure and comfortable retirement.
  • “The report shows what has been repeatedly proven, that industry funds out-perform funds which are run for the benefit of shareholders in the big banks.
  • “If the government was really concerned about ensuring that all workers had access to insurance and other products through super they would support the ALP amendments to the My Super bill currently before the parliament.
  • “The way forward for the superannuation system should involve expanding it to cover all workers and ensuring that all workers – especially women and young people – are getting their fair share, not giving hand-outs to bank-owned funds.“Workers must always have representation in the system which handles their savings. If the banking royal commission has shown anything it’s that we need more consumer oversight, not less.
  • “We need to change the rules so that everyone can enjoy the secure and comfortable retirement that the super system is meant to guarantee.”

Support the Los Angeles Teachers' Strike!

JANUARY 14, 2019 — This morning, 34,000 Los Angeles teachers walked out on strike to defend public education against the privatization agenda of Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and current superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District — the second-largest school district in the country.

The demands of the teachers' union — United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) —  include a 6.5 percent pay increase, smaller class sizes, more funding for school counselors, nurses, and librarians, and a cap on the proliferation of charter schools throughout their city

We write this memo to urge all our supporters to extend your support to the Los Angeles educators, who are in the fight of their lives in defense of public education, the cornerstone of our democracy. At the conclusion of this presentation, you will find a Fund Appeal from the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS), which is working in close coordination with UTLA and the American Federation of Teachers to raise funds to support the strike.

"The Stakes of the Strike Are Extremely High"

Editorial writer Danny Feingold, writing in the Capital and Main magazine (Jan. 10, 2019), described the meaning of this strike:

"The stakes [of the strike] are extremely high not only for teachers, students and parents in L.A., but for public education across the U.S. ... Sometimes strikes are exactly what they seem to be – battles over wages and working conditions, with relatively few implications for anything or anyone else. But sometimes a strike is about something much bigger: a fundamental clash over vision and values, with repercussions that extend far beyond the warring parties. Call it a meta-strike."

This is a "meta-strike" first and foremost because it is challenging the corporate drive — promoted by both Democrats and Republicans — to dismantle public education.

Superintendent Austin Beutner, a Democrat and former deputy mayor of Los Angeles who heads the school district, was not appointed to this position because of his academic skills: he never claimed to have any," Feingold writes. "He [Beutner] is a businessman who made his fortune in an investment company, Blackstone, before founding Evercore Partners, an investment bank. And that is precisely why he was chosen: for his experience and qualities in the field of brutal restructuring in the private sector!"

"As a result," Feingold continues, "Beutner has become the most popular figure in the nationwide movement demanding the uncontrolled restructuring of public schools. Beutner hired a consultant, Cami Anderson, who used to work in Newark, N.J., where she was the head of the city's public schools. It had imposed a restructuring plan, organizing 32 'school networks' that it managed like a portfolio of shares on the stock market. It resulted in keeping the 'good' schools, and simply closing the 'bad' ones, just as in the stock market one gets rid of unprofitable economic sectors.

"In Newark," Feingold adds, "Anderson was behind the closure of many local schools, massive dismissals of teachers and principals ... and finally a revolt by the parents of students who eventually drove her out of the city!"

The strike of the Los Angeles teachers is also taking on the L.A. Board of Education, which was bought in a multi-million-dollar election campaign funded by charter school foundations and other corporate entities (like the Eli Broad Foundation) — all of which got their head start under Arne Duncan, President Obama's secretary of Education.

This is also a "meta-strike" because it extends the 2018 wave of teachers' strikes that erupted in the "red states" (West Virginia, Kentucky Oklahoma, Arizona) into the "blue state" of California.

UTLA President Alex put it this way: “Educators across the country are rising up like we have never seen before. We find ourselves in a defining moment.”

It is, indeed, a defining moment for the entire labor movement. The strikers in the "red states" won most of their demands because of their tenacity. The obstacles in Los Angeles — particularly the obstacle of the Democratic Party — are perhaps greater. But with the support of working people and their unions and community organizations all across the country, the L.A. teachers can win their demands. 

They must win!

Presentation by:
The Organizing Committee of the
Labor Community Campaign for
an Independent Party (LCCIP)

Monday, January 14, 2019

ABC admits to systemic wage theft

ABC admits to systemic wage theft

10 January 2019

The national broadcaster has admitted to underpaying 2500 casual workers in yet another demonstration of the devasting impact of the insecure work crisis on pay and conditions for Australian workers.

The theft of millions of dollars of wages was uncovered after a CPSU member took a case to the Fair Work Commission. This was exposed when the CPSU took a case to the FWC.

Unfortunately, the statute of limitations (six years) will mean that many workers will never recover their stolen wages. The ABC has made wide-spread use of casual contracts for the last two decades.

This is a shocking revelation of wage theft from an organisation which should be a best-practice employer.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil:

  • “The work that union members at the ABC have done to expose this shows the power of working people standing together and fighting back. There is nothing more important for protecting your rights at work than joining your union.
  • “This is truly appalling conduct from the ABC, the underpayment of huge amounts of money from thousands of employees is outrageous and will never be tolerated.
  •  “The crisis of insecure work is in every workplace, in every state. We need to change the rules to ensure that no more workers have their wages stolen.
  • “The CPSU and MEAA members who have brought this to light have done amazing work but should not have had to go through a lengthy, difficult court process. If your employer does not pay you what you are legally entitled to the legal recourse should be simple, effective and at no cost.
  • “This is a classic case of there being one rule for employers and another for working people. This is wage theft, plain and simple, and there should be meaningful consequences for employers who engage in it.”

UK – Who are the UK yellow vest protesters?

Hundreds of people put on high-visibility jackets in imitation of French protesters as they marched in central London against government cuts.
Organisers from The People's Assembly Against Austerity described Saturday's march as the arrival in the UK of the "yellow vests" movement that rocked France in November 2018.
They even brought two campaigners from across the Channel to seal the relationship.
But they are not the only group to claim the spirit of the yellow vests, with pro-Brexit demonstrators outside Parliament also putting on high-vis jackets.
So why are demonstrators battling over this symbol?

The French connection

"English people, you look good in yellow!" said a message on the jacket of Erick Simon.
He is one of the gilet jaunes, as they are known in France, who travelled from Normandy with fellow organiser, Laurie Martin.
Ms Martin said she came "to support the British because our demands are the same as those fighting austerity across Europe".
Jim Scott, who got up at 04:00 GMT to travel from west Wales to the protest, said the vests had become a powerful "symbol for change".
"They're facing the same things in France: austerity, cuts to public services, expanding the gap between rich and poor. That's how this movement has started."
As the march began, one protester cried, "Let's show the French what we can do!"

Sunday, January 13, 2019

MUA – Port Automation Is Chronically Overrated

Even Management Consultants Have Figured Out That Port Automation Is Chronically Overrated
Posted by Mua communications on January 12, 2019

A new report into port automation by a prominent management consultancy used by rightwing bosses and governments worldwide has shown what unions have known for years – that automation always costs a fortune but rarely delivers forecast profits and productivity gains.

The global survey of port stakeholders by leading right wing management consultancy McKinsey & Co found that container terminals are accelerating their investments, but many are not able to generate projected cost or performance benefits.

Respondents expected automation to cut operating expenses by 25-55 per cent and to raise productivity by 10-35 per cent.

However, it reality, the survey found operating expenses at automated ports fell by 15-35 per cent while productivity actually fell by 7-15 per cent.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin said workers had known all along that the shift to automation was ideological rather than practical.

“We have been saying for years that the business case for automation doesn’t stack up but this time it isn’t just unions saying it but right wing bean counters as well,” Crumlin said.

 “Too often we have seen snakes in suits who think they can remake the waterfront in their own image but ultimately it is workers and company shareholders who pay the price for misguided management adventures on automation.

 “I look forward to the next round of consultants’ reports recommending that employers actually sit down with workers and their union to see how real productivity can be achieved at container terminals without enormous capital expenditure and failed expectations – but I won’t hold my breath.

“Instead the report outlines a race to the bottom – cutting the jobs of hardworking men and women with no regard for the human cost, let alone poor business practice so unions and their members will have to keep up the fight for quality jobs, adequate safety and decent conditions."

 The McKinsey report said an anonymous global port operator informed them that the average number of gross moves per hour for quay cranes is in the low 20s, while at many conventional terminals it is in the high 30s.

 Poor data quality, siloed operations and the failure of ports to simplify processes before automating them were also factors at ports where automation has not yielded the expected benefits.

“With numbers like these, automation can’t overcome the burden of the up-front capital expenditures,” the report said.

However, this is not slowing the pace of automation in the ports sector, with 80 per cent of survey respondents telling McKinsey they expect that in the next five years, at least half of all greenfield port projects would be semi or fully automated.

Just over one third of respondents expect the proportion of automated ports will rise above seven in ten.

“Brownfield projects—the total or partial conversion of existing conventional ports—will probably gain momentum soon: more than half of the participants expect at least 50 per cent of the top 50 ports to initiate retrofitting plans or to add automated equipment during the next five years,” the report said.

“But the survey also clearly showed that the return on investment from port automation demands attention from port operators and investors alike. Up-front capital outlays are high.

“We estimate that to justify these investments, the operating expenses of an automated greenfield terminal would have to be 25 per cent lower than those of a conventional one or productivity would have to rise by 30 per cent while operating expenses fell by 10 per cent.”

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Not one step back: an interview with Dennis Skinner

Dennis Skinner addresses Labour Party conference in 2017
In an exclusive interview, DANIEL POWELL speaks to the veteran left-wing MP about Brexit, Sports Direct, triggering Michael Heseltine, throwing shade at the Queen - and never, ever, making friends with a Tory

At Westminster’s grandiose central lobby, Labour’s longest continuously serving MP Dennis Skinner seeks a quiet place for our conversation.

Passing through a corridor, he indicates a doorway that was once a trade union room. The “Palace of Varieties,” as he calls his place of work, has changed since he first became MP for Bolsover in 1970. Settling for the cafeteria, he begins to recall his early days.

“I was the president of the Derbyshire miners, and I had been going down a few times to the headquarters of the NUM on Euston Road, so if it finished early I used to come in Parliament and see what was happening.

“One day they were having a debate on pay policy, so I came in for that, and John Mendelson, who represented Penistone in South Yorkshire, used to give me a ticket. I was under the gallery in those special seats, like it’s almost on the floor.

“I was eating a sandwich and one of the whips came to me and said: ‘You can’t eat in here.’ I said: ‘Oh, can’t you, I’ll have to do it quietly then, secretly’.”

Mendelson also played a role in the development of another prominent icon of the left at this time — by introducing Tony Benn to the radical history of the Diggers and Levellers.

Skinner has proved to be a most valuable MP, recorded as having the second lowest expenses claim and the highest attendance record in the Commons.

On beginning his career, he vowed to adhere to three principles: no pairing with opposition MPs for the convenience of being absent at Commons votes; no leisurely jaunts on fact-finding trips; no collaboration in all-party groups.

“I decided not to pair, and not to go on fact-finding trips — because they’re all with the enemy. Tories, Liberals and members of the House of Lords, which I thought should be abolished anyway.

“It’s funny — they never do any fact-finding tours to Greenland in the winter, but they do find ways and means of getting to Australia.”

“I declared I would never get involved in all-party groups because I can’t see the point in sitting there with Tories talking about pensions.

“At a time like now, they have all-party groups on universal credit — I can’t believe it. I can’t see the point of getting elected as a Labour, socialist member of Parliament and then collaborating with the enemy.”

Although a long-term Eurosceptic, he refrained from aligning with Leave advocates from other parties for photoshoots prior to the referendum, chiding former Labour MP Gisela Stuart as “somebody on our side — buying Boris Johnson an ice cream during the campaign.”

“My opposition to the EU stemmed from the beginning—I’d only been here about a year or so in 1971 when I realised that this was a democratic argument. It’s not just about what later transpired to be using foreign workers for cheap labour, zero-hour contracts dominated by two agencies and no trade union representation,” says Dennis, referring to negative effects EU freedom of movement has had in his Bolsover constituency.

On a former mining colliery site at Shirebrook, where billionaire Mike Ashley opened his warehouse — known locally as “the gulag” — workers from eastern Europe were hired to toil for below the minimum wage in poor conditions.

“Very cleverly, Mike Ashley used to allow one or two of the Unite members to be employed [directly] by him,” he says.

“But the two agencies recruit the rest. He doesn’t answer my letters, he just made it clear that he didn’t want me anywhere near the place, he’d obviously found out who I was. So I’ve never been in the factory, ever — even though it’s in my area.”

On the dispute over whether remaining in the EU would prevent a Labour government implementing manifesto pledges such as rail renationalisation, Dennis is cautious.

“I tend to view that I’m not going to take that risk. Even though we’ve got a decent leftwinger at the head of the Labour Party and a chance of winning power and being prime minister, the truth is under the present arrangement we would have difficulties getting that legislation through in Europe, so the best way is to get out.”

Regarding the subject of another referendum: “When does it stop, is it best of three?”

Labour’s preference is for a snap general election, whereby securing a victory would see them able to negotiate with the EU in a different position to the current Conservative government, propped up by the DUP at a £1 billion cost.

This is not the first time a minority government has had to rely on such support though, as Skinner recalls: “They have signed an agreement and received money, which is the first time I’ve known it. Callaghan ruled from ’76 to ’79 almost without a majority for part of time — he did deals with all kinds of people in order to survive, and some of them were the Ulster Unionists then, the same people who are the DUP now. He would do anything rather than give them money. They all cost a Ronaldo price, a hundred million apiece.

“Part of the European set-up is, that whatever contract the Labour Party of the future would have to observe is giving every single country in Europe a chance to bid for the business. That means nationalisation is ruled out, and that’s why I vote as I do.

“It was heaven sent for Tony Blair because he didn’t have to nationalise anything, whereas Harold Wilson nationalised Aerospace with a majority of one! We sang The Red Flag, and that’s when [Michael] Heseltine picked up the mace.”

The sound of Labour MPs triumphantly singing the classic socialist rallying song angered the Conservative MP into grabbing and wielding the ceremonial mace from the Commons table, before being restrained amid grave disorder – resulting in suspension from the House.

Well known for his caustic humorous jibes at Conservative MPs, Skinner has been expelled from the Commons chamber several times for unparliamentary language.

On one occasion, a speech from chancellor George Osborne on economic growth prompted Skinner to retort: “The only thing growing then were the lines of coke in front of boy George and the rest of them.” After the Speaker Michael Martin ordered Skinner to leave, he returned to his office where “one of his emissaries came up and knocked on the door, and said: ‘The Speaker said you’ve no need to leave the building’ — because I was getting everything together, which is the normal practice when you’re thrown out.

And he says: ‘So long as you don’t go in the chamber.’ So I packed up what I was doing. My guess is he probably thought: ‘He didn’t say the member for Tatton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said boy George, and pointed.’

“It was clear to anybody that had been in there that it was about that photo that had been in the Sunday papers — I wasn’t being Machiavellian about it.”

In contrast to the often humdrum business of Parliament, such moments of acerbic wit from Skinner over the years have created a loyal fanbase of old and new generations of leftist Labour supporters. His sardonic comments to the Queen’s representative Black Rod during the annual opening of Parliament over the years have included laconic comic asides such as “tell her to pay her taxes” and “tell her to sell up” during economic recession.

At the 2017 opening, Skinner considered the Queen’s interest in attending horse-racing events for his traditional commentary, causing laughter to resound around the House: “I just knew that week she was due to open Parliament on the Monday. I thought there’s no Ascot on Monday, that’s interesting, I bet she’s very happy. But then Theresa May changed it, and decided that she’d got to come on Wednesday. I thought, I’ll bet she’s furious. So it was pretty clear I’d already got something to say. So I said: ‘Don’t you think you ought to get your skates on, first race is half past two’.”

In 2018 Theresa May cancelled the usual opening of Parliament ceremony, opting for a two-year session while Brexit negotiations continue. Can we look forward to a Skinner quip at the opening of Parliament in 2019?

“I’ll think of something on the day.”

Timing, it seems, may be key to both politics and humour alike.

Unions NSW – State Government’s plan to silence political dissent

MEDIA RELEASE - Secret email reveals State Government’s plan to silence political dissent
Posted on December 04, 2018

As unions prepare to tackle the NSW Government’s unfair electoral funding laws in the High Court, a Government Information Public Access application reveals the Berejiklian Government wanted to go much further, banning unions, charities, churches and environmental activists from advocating a vote for a specific party or even donating to them.

The Unions NSW High Court challenge begins on Wednesday. It seeks to overturn laws that can see trade unionists and other ‘third parties’ jailed up to ten years if they share the costs of television advertising, publish logos on joint campaign material or share research and polling data.

The laws more than halve the amount unions can spend on election campaigns to only $500,000, while allowing political parties to spend up to $11 million.

A GIPA application by Unions NSW has uncovered an email sent within the office of Special Minister of State, Anthony Roberts, revealing plans to go much further including:

  • Banning trade unions and third parties from advocating a vote for a certain political party;
  • Banning trade unions and third parties from donating to political parties;
  • Forcing third party campaigners to register the aim of their campaign six months out from an election,and requiring they not deviate from it;
  • Reducing the expenditure cap even further, to $300,000.
  • The email, which can be read here, also reveals the expert panel upon which the Government relied to draft the laws has no expertise in political campaigning, but can be “used as justification for further restrictions to third party campaigners.”

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Morey, said it was now clear that the Government’s electoral funding laws were drafted in bad faith.

  • “The NSW Government is abusing the legal system. It is threatening to throw its opponents in jail for campaigning against it. Under the Liberal Party’s laws, trade unionists or environmental protesters will be treated as criminals if they work together on a campaign flyer or share some polling.
  • “The Liberals want to rig the system. Under their system they can spend 20 times more than any other organisation getting their message across. That’s before you include the firehose of government advertising. They spent $84 million of public money promoting themselves in 2017.
  • “These draconian laws are bad enough. But our GIPA application shows they want to ban us campaigning entirely. The Liberals have studied how trade unions operate and simply made it illegal. What’s next, banning political opposition entirely?
  • “If we reran the electricity privatisation campaign from the last election, we would go to jail. 
  • “Working people have always pooled their resources to run election campaigns and we believe we have a constitutional right to continue doing so.” 

The Unions NSW court action argues the laws infringe the implied freedom of communication in the Commonwealth Constitution.

The action is supported by the ETU, USU, Teachers Federation, HSU, PSA, NSWNMA and a dozen other unions.

Kevin Rudd – Citizen Murdoch's critical grip on democracy

5 January 2019

This year will be an important year for three of the world’s oldest, continuing democracies - the United States, the UK and Australia.

The US will decide, post-Mueller, whether Trump’s presidency is terminal. The UK will decide whether to tear up a half a century of European integration. And Australia faces a general election.

It will also be an important year for the Murdoch media where it’s power in these three democracies is formidable, and in Australia’s case dominant.

In the US, Murdoch’s Fox News has been the great enabler of Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the modern Republican Party. This has been a long project in the making. But because Fox has been the self-reinforcing echo-chamber of the American far right for 30 years, it has become the principal medium through which each generation of conservatives have outflanked each other by going further and further to the right.

We saw it in the 1990s with the highjacking of the Republicans by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”. Then we saw it in the 2000s with Gingrich being outflanked by Paul Ryan’s “Tea Party”. Then the Tea Party was in turn outflanked by the Trump Party. Watching Fox is like watching a revivalist meeting of evangelical fundamentalist preachers seeking to out-compete each other for the affections of “the base”.

The result is that the Grand Old Party of Lincoln has been ripped from its moorings, with profound consequences for the American democracy at home, and the American-led global order abroad. Well done Rupert.

Then there’s Murdoch’s political handiwork in Britain. First he campaigned in support of Scottish separation from the rest of Britain, coming close to destroying the United Kingdom that had prevailed as a strong, unified state for over 300 years.

But then he deployed his formidable media arsenal in full-throttled support of Britain leaving Europe during the 2016 referendum before finally hitting the Jackpot with Nigel Farage’s UKIP, the ever-opportunistic Boris Johnson and Brexit.

As a result, Britain has degenerated over the last two years into its worst political and constitutional crisis in 500 years. Once again, well done Rupert, and that’s despite the fact that his newspapers had already been found guilty of multiple breaches of the criminal law following the Leveson Inquiry into what became known as the “phone-hacking scandal” in 2011-12.

As for Australia, where Murdoch owns 70% of the country’s print media, unsurprisingly we read very little of the impact of Citizen Murdoch’s singular contribution to the political disembowelling of the American and British democracies. That’s because his Australian mastheads, by and large run by a sycophantic “broederbund” of editors always seeking to out-compete one another for their master’s affections, will rarely cover any news story, foreign or domestic, that might give offence to Rupert Central.

In Australia, as in the US and the UK, the Murdoch media don’t behave as a news organisation, but as a political party in full pursuit of their commerical and hard-right ideological interests in coalition with the major conservative party of the day.

That’s why the Murdoch media has become such a cancer on the wider cause of democracy. We often ponder why democracy has been in such a mess across the Anglosphere. While Murdoch cannot be blamed for the lot, he’s been a big part of the equation. By contrast, the Canadian democracy has been in reasonable shape. Interesting that there is negligible Murdoch presence there.

In the 2013 elections in Australia, Murdoch despatched his leading henchman from the New York Post to Sydney to run a joint campaign with the Liberals to put Abbott in The Lodge, as has been well documented by ABC media-watch.

This was not just to put Abbott’s mad, right-wing government into office. It was also about protecting his company’s commerical interests by getting Abbott and his then Communications Minister Turnbull to destroy my government’s Fibre Optic to the Premises National Broadband Network. 

Murdoch’s henchmen say this is all the stuff of conspiracy. They should read the compulsory filings by News Corp on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013 warning explicitly of the threat to Murdoch’s television interests represented by internet-based competitors.

Murdoch, however, is a clever political animal. His modus operandi has long been to do whatever it takes to have compliant conservative governments in power. But if, despite his best efforts, a conservative loss looks inevitable, he then begins to swing some support behind the political alternative before its all too late. This is designed to cause any new centre-left government to feel somewhat politically beholden to Murdoch when they eventually win, or at least not as hostile to Murdoch’s interests as they would otherwise be.

They tried this in late 2007 in Australia having spent the previous 12 months seeking unsuccessfully to defenestrate me through one set of of bogus charges after another. Now we see the same in the United States, where Trump is increasingly seen as terminal and where in recent weeks Fox News has begun to allow various of its anchors to open up against Trump.

We may be beginning to see the same now unfolding in Australia where Murdoch may have judged that the Liberals are now in such political disrepair that even Uncle Rupert can’t save them. 

Of course, the irony of all this is breathtaking given Murdoch’s recent and well-documented roll in the last round of Liberal leadership implosions. But then again, irony has never been Rupert’s strong suit.

So watch out for the the subtle tacking to port on the part of various of Murdoch’s mastheads as they begin to send out feelers to Shorten et al. Labor should be wary of quiet approaches from Lachlan Murdoch or his minions. Nor should Labor be seduced by a more generous sprinkling of positive news stories, or negative ones about the Coalition. That’s how Murdoch plays the game.

The core objective of course is to avoid a Royal Commission that would lay bare the actual nature of their Australian political operations and their destruction of the NBN.

Their "sotto voce" message in all this will be that Murdoch might not have been so deeply opposed to Labor after all. And pigs might fly. That’s before Murdoch then sets about killing Labor straight after the next election. After all, that’s the way US Citizen Murdoch does business.