Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Accoss – Inhumane robodebt more evidence the error-ridden program needs to go

The Australian Council of Social Service welcomes the Opposition joining much of the Crossbench and the Greens in calling for the error-ridden, inhumane robodebt program to be abolished.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said robodebt needed to be replaced with a humane system of debt recovery.

“Robodebt has unleashed thousands of debt notices in error to single parents, people with disabilities, carers, students and people seeking paid work.

"We have repeatedly warned the Government that robodebt is grossly unfair and contrary to basic legal principles, especially the use of automated averaging to calculate debts. This, combined with the reversal of onus of proof, is leading to inaccurate assessments of what people may, or may not, owe, and people being pursued for debts they do not owe.

“Robodebt is a devastating abuse of government power that has caused extensive harm, particularly among people who are the most vulnerable in our community.

“Reports that the Government is pursuing robodebts against family members of people who have passed away and that thousands of people have died after receiving a robodebt are particularly alarming.

 “Robodebt is among a long list of policies from this Federal Government that degrade and harass people living with disability, caring for children, studying or searching for paid work.

“The Government is making life even harder for people going through tough times with damaging policies like Robodebt, the Cashless Debit Card and ParentsNext.

“People looking for paid work are being forced into a cycle of debt and deprivation, making it near impossible to put their best foot forward and find a job.

“Instead of making life harder for people when they’re already struggling, we need to increase Newstart to support people through tough times and into suitable paid work.”

Media contact:  Australian Council of Social Service, 0419 626 155

Friday, July 26, 2019

Even John Howard Supports Newstart Increase

Former Prime Minister John Howard: the guy who initiated the work for the dole scheme, economic conservative,  is now advocating for an increase in unemployment payments. Not your usual character for this side of the debate.

I was in favour of freezing it when it happened, but I think the freeze is probably too long.

We hear a lot of talk about Newstart – the dole – from politicians, from the press (aka, us) – but there are thousands of people across the country who are actually living it. Elizabeth is a 48-year old single mother of one, living in Sydney. Just after her son turned 18, years of family tax benefits switched to Newstart and she saw her income crumble. She says she’s now struggling to cover the cost of rent, food, bills, even medication. If it weren’t for groups like St Vincent De Paul, she’s not sure where she’d be.

We’re always told we’re bludgers… but what we’re getting isn’t even covering the basics.

As of January 2017, more than 770-thousand Australians received Newstart payments.  For a single person, that equates to about 40-dollars a day. At the same time, cost of living is skyrocketing, and there are hundreds of thousands more unemployed people than there are jobs.

But Tuesday’s budget saw no money allocated to lift payments in ‘real terms’ – i.e, greater than inflation. The government says it’s about motivating people to get back to work, but are they missing the real problem?Charmaine Crowe from the Australia Council for Social Service thinks so: she says the minimum wage is more than two times the rate of Newstart – and that’s a big incentive to get back to work. 

The problem is, there is only one job available for every eight people wanting one.

Elizabeth says she’s focused on getting off Newstart payments, with a goal of finding a job doing what she loves – being out and about in the National Parks.

If the government wants to get it’s company and income tax cuts past the Senate, raising Newstart may be the trade-off.  And with even John Howard and the Business Council of Australia saying it should be higher, is finally time for a new start for new start?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

ACOSS welcomes Australian Medical Association’s support for an increase to Newstart

The Australian Council of Social Service welcomes the Australian Medical Association’s support for an increase to Newstart, the payment for people looking for paid work. At the National Press Club, Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone said: 

"People on that allowance are experiencing significant stress and issues and that must have health impacts on their wellbeing.

  • "Clearly, if they are struggling, clearly, if it is insufficient to meet their needs, certainly from a health perspective, it makes sense to increase."

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

  • “Increasing Newstart makes sense for so many reasons and the impact on people’s health is key.  
  • “We know that people on Newstart are skipping meals, sleeping rough, struggling through winter without electricity, and suffering deep financial stress – all of these things are severely harmful for their physical and mental health. 
  • “Struggling to get by on the low rate of Newstart is far from a healthy existence. 
  • “Half of people on Newstart are over the age of 45 and one in four people on Newstart have an illness or disability but have not been granted the Disability Support Pension. Not only do they have higher health costs, they also face challenges and discrimination in looking for paid work so can end up on the paltry payment for years. 
  • “Single parents on the meagre Newstart payment are forced to try do the best they can for their children’s health without enough for healthy meals, secure housing or heating and cooling. 
  • “Not only would Newstart improve health and reduce poverty, it would provide stimulus and create jobs, especially in regions of high unemployment.
  •  “We warmly welcome the Australian Medical Association joining the Business Council of Australia, the Country Women’s Association, seniors groups, economists and many others in support for an increase in Newstart. 
  • “The Government must listen to the community and the Parliament, including a number of Liberals, the majority of Nationals, the Labor Party, the Greens and almost all the Crossbench, and immediately increase Newstart.” 

Media contact:  Australian Council of Social Service, 0419 626 155

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Iceland Plaque Remembers First Glacier to lose Status due to Climate Change

The plaque remembers the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status due to melting caused by the climate crisis.

Iceland’s Rice University has unveiled a stark reminder of climate change in the form of a memorial for the country’s first ‘dead’ glacier.

One hundred years ago the Okjökull glacier in Borgarfjörður stretched over 15 square kilometers, measuring over 50 metres in thickness. Today it barely reaches one square kilometer and registers 15 meters in thickness.

It has also lost its status as a glacier.

Researchers from the university and geologist Oddur Sigurðsson, who first declared the glacier’s death, will gather on August 18th to reveal a plaque remembering the former natural wonder. 

Anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer fear that all 400 of the country’s glaciers could be extinct by 2200.

“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” said Howe.

With this memorial, we want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to collectively respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change.

A ‘living’ glacier is defined by its ability to shed  - and accumulate - ice weight as the seasons change, while remaining a persistent mass that is constantly moving.

When a glacier loses any of these defining features it becomes what scientists refer to as ‘dead ice’.

Australia on track to be ‘world’s worst’ climate damagers

Australia could be responsible for up to 17 per cent of the world's carbon emissions by 2030, according to new research.

A report by Berlin-based science and policy institute Climate Analytics has found planned coal and gas expansions could push Australia's share of emissions higher over the next decade.

Australian coal could be responsible for 12 per cent of global emissions by then.

Legendary natural historian, David Attenborough also recently named Australia as a climate damager in a speech to the British Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee.

"Australia is already facing, having to deal with some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change," he said.

"I will never forget diving on the [Great Barrier] reef about 10 years ago and suddenly seeing...it had bleached white because of the rising temperatures and the increasing acidity of the sea."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Deputy PM McCormack tells unemployed to move on

Michael McCormack says people in regional areas should move out of their home towns to find a job in response to calls to raise Newstart.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has told unemployed Australians to show some “innovative spirit” and leave their home town to find a job.

Rebutting growing calls for the Newstart payment to be increased, the Nationals leader said there were “many jobs” available for people prepared to move. 

“There are jobs out there in regional Australia and there are good paying jobs and what I think we do need in this country is a more mobile workforce," Mr McCormack told Sky News.

“And so people have to be prepared to move sometimes out of their comfort zone and their home town and move to the next town to take a job.”

Mr McCormack is facing pressure from backbenchers within his own party to raise the Newstart rate, which has not risen above inflation in more than two decades.

His predecessor Barnaby Joyce last week backed the campaign to lift the rate, arguing it was particularly tough for unemployed people in regional areas. 

"Certainly $555 or thereabouts a fortnight is difficult, especially in regional areas,” Mr Joyce said.

“Especially if your rent's $250 a week, well, you're not really going to get by."

Tasmania – Council Declares Statewide Climate Emergency

Kingborough Council voted to declare a statewide Climate Biodiversity Emergency on July 8, just three weeks after adjoining Hobart City Council became the first Australian capital city to do the same.

The motion, moved by councillor Amanda Midgley, also commits council to write to Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to urge them to declare a climate emergency at the state and federal levels.

The public gallery at the Kingborough council meeting was packed and included members of the Red Brigade, an affiliate group of Extinction Rebellion (XR) Tasmania, who stood silently dressed in blood cloaks with their faces painted pale white.

XR Tasmania described the outcome as showing “powerful leadership at the local government level” and offering “flickers of hope for all”.

Set up just over two months ago, XR Tasmania already has more than 400 members involved in a wide range of activities.

BMUC Susan Templeman Speech

Dear Deb

I enclose a short speech I was able to make on penalty rates and employment practices in Parliament yesterday.

In the wake of the revelations by the SMH about the employment practices at the Escarpment Group, I wanted to ensure that Blue Mountains Unions & Community was aware of my position on these serious matters.

Firstly, I am very pleased to see the work by journalist Anna Patty to expose the allegations.

While there have been rumours for some time, no one was able to bring to me a single piece of evidence, and it is a real tribute to the work of a couple of determined individuals and 14 months work by an investigative reporter that someone was willing to go public.

I also note that both BMUC and I raised concerns with United Voice over a period of time.

At this time, it’s obviously important that due process is followed, and I look forward to the findings being made public by Fair Work.

I have requested to be briefed by Fair Work, but I am not confident that that will occur.

If the actions by the employer are found to be illegal, then they should face the full force of the law.

If the actions are not found to be illegal, then questions must be asked about the adequacy of existing laws to protect all workers from exploitation, whether Australian or here on work visas.

Regardless of the outcome, I expect this case will yet again highlight the inadequacy of current employment protections and provide more reason for the rules to change.

Kind regards


Susan Templeman
Federal Member for Macquarie
P: 45738222

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Celebrity chef George Calombaris underpaying $7.83 million in wages

Celebrity chef George Calombaris has been slapped with a substantial fine after admitting to underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees of his hospitality empire as part of an unprecedented deal with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The MasterChef star has been ordered to make a $200,000 "contrition payment" and must also make a series of public statements to promote compliance with the Fair Work Act, according to an enforceable undertaking announced on Thursday morning.

The full extent of the underpayment scandal has dwarfed initial estimates by Calombaris from April 2017, when his company Made Establishment announced that 162 workers had been underpaid $2.6 million because of "historically poor processes".

A four-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman uncovered a raft of breaches, including a failure to pay minimum award rates, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime rates, split-shift allowances and annual leave loadings.

Made Establishment also failed to keep records of the hours worked by staff on annualised salaries, some of whom were also denied accrued overtime and penalty rates.
Calombaris is expected to address staff on Thursday to explain the conditions of the enforceable undertaking.

He issued a statement on Thursday morning.

"We apologise to all our affected team members, past and present – as it is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles," he said.

Calombaris said he was "committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example".

The agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman will require Calombaris to implement new payroll and compliance systems across his stable of restaurants that include Hellenic Republic, Gazi and Jimmy Grants.

Each venue must also be independently audited for the next three years, while workplace relations training will be provided to all Made Establishment staff with responsibility for human resources, payroll and on-site management.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the court-enforceable undertaking would ensure improved wages and record-keeping were in place at the Made group.

"Made’s massive back-payment bill should serve as a warning to all employers that if they don’t get workplace compliance right from the beginning, they can spend years cleaning up the mess," Ms Parker said.

The massive pay-out and strict conditions imposed by the enforceable undertaking are expected to send shockwaves throughout the hospitality industry, with several prominent chefs and restaurateurs currently under investigation.

The Fair Work Ombudsman recently confirmed it was examining alleged underpayment at upmarket restaurants owned by Neil Perry, Guillaume Brahimi, Teage Ezard and Heston Blumenthal following a series of stories by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Staff from Made Establishment first made complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2015, but Calombaris and his then business partner George Sykiotis claimed the issues had been resolved.

However, when Radek Sali, the former chief executive of Swisse vitamins, took a major stake in the business in 2016, a string of discrepancies were identified.

Made Establishment self-reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2017, before making a public statement about the unfolding scandal.

At the time, Mr Sali said he was "prepared for a few potholes in the books" when he first invested, but was unaware that hundreds of staff had been ripped off.

On Thursday morning, Made Establishment chief executive Leigh Small said all but a few claims had been settled and existing staff had been correctly classified under the award system.

"Since changing ownership, we have introduced a new CEO, a new people and culture director and new processes and procedures to ensure we're not only complying with workplace relation laws, but actively promoting a culture of employee wellbeing," Ms Small.

The issue of systemic underpayment gathered momentum before the federal election in May, when outgoing Liberal industrial relations minister Kelly O'Dwyer gave in-principle agreement to a recent report by former consumer watchdog chief Allan Fels recommending criminalising wage theft.

She said the exploitation of workers "harms individuals, undercuts law-abiding employers and reflects poorly on Australia's international reputation".

In 2012, Calombaris fuelled a national debate about the viability of penalty rates, when he complained that some of his restaurants were unprofitable on a Sunday because he was required to pay staff up to $40 an hour.

"The problem is that wages on public holidays and weekends greatly exceed the opportunity for profit.

"And it's not like they've had to go to uni for 15 years," the MasterChef star said.

Secrecy is the enemy of fairness.

Australia's environmental, labour, and health and safety laws are threatened by a free trade agreement, the RCEP, currently being negotiated between Australia, New Zealand, China, India, South Korea and the ten member countries of ASEAN - about half of the world's population. How can we ensure trade is globally fair, safe and environmentally friendly?


Dr Pat Ranald

Convenor Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) & Research Fellow, University of Sydney.

Dr Ranald will speak about the RCEP, a massive traded deal currently being negotiated in secret. Her focus will be Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions which allow companies to sue governments when changes to environmental, labour, health, safety and other laws reduce profit. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is potentially at risk.

Anna Spoore 

Vice Chair Fair Trade Association Australia and New Zealand. Director of Uplift Fair Trade in Katoomba St, Katoomba.

What is fair? How does "fair trade" differ from other trade models? Anna Spoore will define Fair Trade and its principles according to the Fair Trade Charter which was established last year.

Alison Rahill

How do we know if the products we buy have been ethically produced? Alison Rahill will speak about Fair Trade supply lines and the work of the Anti Slavery taskforce which has developed the "Shop for Good", ethical purchasing guide.


Tickets to this event are free but, if you wish,

you can support the work of Blue Mountains Unions & Community by making an online donation.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

TWU Things Have Got To Change

In 2020, transport workers across Australia will unite to fight for better, safer jobs. We’ll be fighting for the same pay for the same job, regardless of what transport company you work for. We’ll be fighting to make sure the wealthy companies at the top of the transport supply chain pay their fair share.

Things have got to change. Wealthy companies at the top of supply chains are making big profits by cutting costs in transport. This means jobs are being downgraded. Insecure jobs are on the rise and wage theft is rampant. People are dying on our roads.

We have a plan to turn this around. It involves transport workers from every sector of the industry coming together to fight as one.

In 2020, over 200 transport enterprise agreements across aviation and road transport will come to an end at the same time. These agreements cover 38,000 transport workers at the airports and on the roads.

This gives us a powerful tool to make transport a better industry. It means we can take mass industrial action to demand better, safer jobs. It means we can hold wealthy companies to account for the quality of jobs in their supply chain.

We will unite across sectors to stop the race to the bottom in transport.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

UK – MPs have voted to permit same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland by 383 votes to 73.

Under an amendment approved by the House of Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley must make regulations to change the law by 21 October this year, unless a new power-sharing executive has been created by that point.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay and lesbian couples cannot marry, after same-sex weddings were legalised in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland the following year. The first same-sex marriages in the Republic of Ireland took place in 2015, after the country voted for reform in a referendum.

Despite growing pressure for reform in Northern Ireland, changes in a devolved issue have been rendered impossible by the collapse of the power-sharing executive in January 2017.

UK made same sex marriage promise for NI, says Sinn Fein
The move to extend same-sex marriage rights was tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn - who grew up in Northern Ireland - as an amendment to legislation extending the deadline for new elections to the devolved assembly from August to October 21.

Mr McGinn told the Commons that his proposals would introduce an "interim" change to the law which could be overturned by the assembly once it is up and running. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill must complete its passage through the Commons later today and then go to the Lords before becoming law.

The St Helens North MP said that Parliament had "failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland" by not decriminalising homosexuality or introducing same-sex marriage at the same time as these changes were introduced in the rest of the UK.

"Tonight, we have a chance to do the right thing," he told MPs. "People in Northern Ireland - and indeed across Britain and Ireland - are watching."

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Karin Smyth said voting to pave the way for equal marriage in Northern Ireland was a "great testament" to murdered journalist Lyra McKee, who had been planning her own wedding to her female partner at the time of her death during riots in Derry in April.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

David Blanchflower on Underemployment

If Western economies are at full employment, then why are people still hurting? That is the conundrum David Blanchflower lays out - and endeavours to answer - in his new book. Echoing John Maynard Keynes, the British-American economist contends that the West has still not emerged from the long, dragging “semi-slump” that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

At a time when the jobless rate is well below 4% in both the United States and the United Kingdom, it may seem odd to publish a book titled “Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?”. Yet Blanchflower, a professor at Dartmouth College, urges readers to look beyond headline unemployment figures to better gauge the health of the labour market.

Underemployment is a far better post-recession indicator, he argues. Job security is fundamental to happiness. Yet workers face a dearth of decent roles that pay well, while overqualified candidates are forced to move down the occupational ladder. 

Weak wage growth is yet another sign that not all is well. As Blanchflower points out, “real wages haven’t grown for a decade in the UK and in 2018 are still 5% below their level in 2008”. Employees in other major economies like Japan have also seen their pay packets stagnate.

The author’s academic background is evident in the literature and data sprinkled through the 400-plus pages of text. But he supplements his research with what he calls the “economics of walking about” - attaching as much credence to what ordinary people are saying through surveys as he does to quantitative methods. It’s hard to dispute the grim outlook.

Who’s to blame for this predicament? For Blanchflower, who served on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee during the financial crisis, central banks are the obvious culprits. He reckons the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to raise rates was “a mistake” and that fears of resurgent inflation are largely misguided. The recent collapse in government bond yields, amid expectations that the Fed will reverse course due to ongoing trade tensions, lend some credibility to this thesis.

By far the most interesting parts of the book, however, are the ones that attempt to draw a link between underemployment, hopelessness, and support for radical right-wing politicians. Despair and rage have driven some people with less formal education, and often on lower incomes, to vote for Donald Trump and Britain’s departure from the European Union. 

Meanwhile still-high unemployment helped elect Italy’s anti-establishment coalition government, and drove up support for French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen. For Blanchflower, this is all a failure of economic policy.

His proposed solutions are mostly conventional. He suggests cutting interest rates to target full employment, boosting infrastructure spending, and giving people greater incentives to work. Specific proposals include granting tax subsidies to increase labour mobility, setting up enterprise zones to lure firms, and subsidising childcare for working parents. However, the book would have benefited from more detail on how these policies could be implemented, and more examples of countries that have tackled the issue well.

Blanchflower also devotes relatively little time to the other factors that have undermined job security. He discusses how globalisation weakened Western workers’ bargaining power, but offers little on the effects that automation and artificial intelligence have had - and will continue to have - on demand for human labour.

Still, Blanchflower’s main message - that Western economies are in dire straits unless they take more radical measures - is a welcome corrective to the idea that low unemployment numbers indicate rude economic health. As global growth weakens and the world gets used to what looks like a protracted trade war between the U.S. and China, the question of the lack of good jobs is not going away.

Celebrating NAIDOC Week 2019

Government audit of deaths in custody reform Abysmal

A government-ordered review of Indigenous deaths in custody is “misleadingly positive”, “has the potential to misinform policy” and is “largely worthless”, a group of leading Indigenous and social academics has said.

In an open letter published by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University on Thursday, 32 academics and one institution – the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research – wrote that a recent review of government responses to the 1991 royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody hid the lack of action by governments and misrepresented the risk that remained for Indigenous people taken into custody.

“Overall, the scope and methodology of the review enable governments to hide behind the veneer of simply having introduced policies and programs which it claims have addressed [royal commission] recommendations, rather than come to terms with the real-world impacts of these policies or programs, or their overall approach to Indigenous affairs and Indigenous people in the criminal justice system,” they wrote.

They said that the review, which cost $350,000, was “of such poor quality as to render its findings largely worthless”.

Deloitte Access Economics was commissioned by the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, to report on the level to which Australian governments had implemented the 338 recommendations made by the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody (RCIADIC).

The report was released in October and was quickly branded “abysmal” by the Labor senator Pat Dodson, who was one of five commissioners who presided over the five-year inquiry, and called a “whitewash” by Change the Record, the peak national body campaigning to reduce Indigenous incarceration.

The review found that 64% of recommendations were fully implemented in all relevant jurisdictions, 14% were mostly implemented, 16% were partly implemented and 6% were not implemented at all.

But the open letter, co-authored by Prof Tamara Walsh from the University of Queensland, Dr Kirrily Jordan and Dr Francis Markham from ANU, and associate professor Thalia Anthony from the University of Technology Sydney, said those findings were “questionable” and “substantially overstate the progress made towards implementing the RCIADIC recommendations”.

They compared it to a review of the cashless welfare card trial, which was also heavily criticised by academics as being seriously flawed.

They added that some of the policy changes listed by Deloitte as having fulfilled a royal commission recommendation had since been overturned, while others were not in keeping with the full intention of the recommendations.

The Deloitte review said the recommendation that offensive language be decriminalised in all jurisdictions was “partially or fully implemented” despite the use of offensive language remaining an offence in all Australian jurisdictions.

A recommendation that states do away with the practice of automatically jailing people for unpaid fines was also listed as partially or fully implemented despite unpaid fines remaining automatic grounds for imprisonment in Western Australia and Queensland. Yamatji woman Ms Dhu was jailed for unpaid fines when she died in custody in 2014.

'Abysmal': Pat Dodson condemns government audit of deaths in custody reform

Recommendations that arrest be a sanction of last resort were declared fully or partially implemented, despite measures like paperless arrest laws in the Northern Territory, and recommendations concerning the use of bail were also described as partially or fully implemented, despite most jurisdictions toughening bail laws in recent years causing a significant growth in the number of prisoners on remand.

More than half of the cases examined by Guardian Australia in Deaths Inside, an investigation of 10 years of Aboriginal deaths in custody, concerned the death of a person who was on remand or had not been formally arrested.

A recommendation that policy be based on principles of self-determination was found in the Deloitte review to be fully implemented across all jurisdictions, which the academic response said was a “fundamental misinterpretation of the nature of self-determination”.

The group has called on the government to develop national independent monitoring of efforts to implement the recommendations.

Monday, July 08, 2019

DDT– The Shocking Truth and Coverups

In the years after the Second World War, the American empire was at its absolute apex. American businesses were enjoying previously unheard of profits and acting with previously unheard of hubris. More than ever, the natural world was seen as something to be conquered and exploited for what was generally perceived as the betterment of human life and -- really the crux of the matter -- for greater prosperity for the few.

There seemed no limits on production or consumption. It was in this climate that Monsanto, Ciba and other chemical companies began the mass scale production of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, for use as an agricultural insecticide.

Dr. Morton Biskind

It was in the late 1940’s that a Westport, Connecticut physician by the name of Morton Biskind began noticing new ailments and new variations on old ailments in both humans he was treating as well as in domestic and wild animals in the area. 

The maladies he observed were initially most pronounced in dogs,cats, sheep and cattle and included degenerative problems in their brains, internal organs and muscles. When Biskind noticed a dramatic increase in similar symptoms in humans, he began doing research and consulting other doctors about their observations.

In 1949, he and Dr. Irving Bieber published “DDT Poisoning – A New Symptom With Neuropsychiatric Manifestations” in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. Much of the article focused on what Biskind and Bieber saw as a link between DDT exposure and the occurrence of polio. “Facts are stubborn,” the authors wrote, “and refusal to accept them does not avoid their inexorable effects -- the tragic consequences are now upon us.”

Resistance From the Scientific and Business Establishments

Biskind, Bieber and others alarmed by the effects of DDT were bucking the status quo. Just a year before their article was published, Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for discovering the effectiveness of DDT against yellow fever and malaria. Chemical giants such as duPont and Geigy manufactured large quantities of the insecticide for use during World War 2 and government regulators such as those at the Food and Drug Administration dismissed Biskind’s claims.

In reality, it was already well-known among scientists that DDT had a devastating impact on life forms beyond the insects it was intended to kill. In addition to the humans and mammals Biskind had observed, virtually every kind of fish, birds, mammals and insects exposed even to small doses of DDT suffered adverse health consequences. Compounding DDT’s impact was the fact that it was stored in the body fat and milk of humans and animals – essentially, a toxic poison embedded in the organism for as long as that organism lived.

Biskind’s Continued Efforts

Though he was largely ignored and often reviled, Biskind continued to spread his message of warning. In 1950, he testified before Congress about the harmful effects of DDT, and in 1953, he published another important article, “Public Health Aspects of the New Insecticides,” in the American Journal of Digestive Diseases. Though resistance from powerful quarters continued, the message began to get through. More and more studies showed the destructive impact DDT spraying had on all forms of wildlife as well as direct links to cancer and other diseases in humans.

Silent Spring

It was in the 1960’s that the work Biskind had done bore fruit as others such as the eminent biologist Paul Shepard carried forward his efforts. Most famous among those inspired by Biskind was Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who in 1962 authored Silent Spring, perhaps the most important environmental book ever written. In 1967, a group of scientists and lawyers formed the Environmental Defense Fund for the express purpose of getting the production and use of DDT banned.

 Hungary became the first nation to ban DDT for agricultural use in 1968 and other countries soon did likewise including, in 1972, the United States. In response, DDT manufacturers sued the Environmental Protection Agency. The ban was eventually upheld and DDT has ever since only been authorized for use in extreme cases such as possible threats of bubonic plague being spread by fleas or yellow fever by mosquitoes.

Biskind died in Westport in 1981 at the age of 74. His work lives on and is celebrated by environmentalists everywhere as well as by writers such as E.G. Vallianatos. His efforts underscore the clash of interests between corporations and governments that serve them, on the one hand, and the rest of us. His work also serves as a warning about mainstream notions of progress and the obsession with consumption that is central to such notions.
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion.  He can be reached at andypiascik@yahoo.com.

UK and Huawei 5G Networks

Huawei is helping develop 5G networks for all four of the UK’s major mobile phone operators – even though the government has yet to confirm whether the controversial Chinese technology company will be permitted to build the next generation of wireless infrastructure.

The revelation threatens to exacerbate tensions between the UK and the US, which has taken a firm line against the company amid claims, strongly denied, that it is controlled by the Chinese government and that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries and companies.

The Observer understands that Huawei is already involved in building 5G networks in six of the seven cities in the UK where Vodafone has gone live. It is also helping build hundreds of 5G sites for EE, and has won 5G contracts to build networks for Three and O2 when they go live.

The decision to use Huawei in the “non-core” parts of their networks – chiefly the radio systems allowing wireless communication – is a gamble for UK telecom operators. They may be left counting the cost if the government bans the Chinese company from any involvement with 5G.

The consultancy Assembly suggests a partial to full restriction on Huawei could result in an 18-to-24-month delay to the widespread availability of 5G in the UK. The UK would then fail to become a world leader in 5G – a key government target – costing the economy between £4.5bn and £6.8bn.

But the US has placed the UK in a difficult position. In May, President Donald Trump ordered the US treasury department to name Huawei as a national security threat, a move that led US firms to distance themselves from the company. Three months earlier, the heads of major intelligence agencies, including the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, had warned US citizens not to use Huawei phones.

The US has also pressured other countries to stop using Huawei equipment in their national infrastructure and has warned close allies such as the UK that to continue the relationship might jeopardise its ability to share classified security information with them.

US concerns are shared by several senior UK government figures. Gavin Williamson was sacked as defence secretary this year after he was suspected of leaking confidential National Security Council discussions that suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide non-core 5G equipment to UK operators. A government review of the UK telecoms supply chain, which would signal whether Huawei should be allowed to build 5G networks, was due to be published in the spring but has yet to materialise as officials and ministers clash over the extent to which the Chinese company should be restricted.

Whitehall officials are concerned that excluding Huawei, one of the very few companies that can provide next-generation wireless technology, would have damaging implications for the future of the UK’s infrastructure. They have taken note of what happened last December when the O2 4G network went down for 24 hours due to problems with technology provided by the Swedish telecoms firm Ericsson.

“If we had banned Huawei and everyone was just using Ericsson, we would have had a day without any mobile coverage on any network – not a good position to be in,” said Matthew Howett at Assembly.

The quiet rollout of 5G telecoms infrastructure supplied by Huawei has been tracked by an enthusiast, Peter Clarke, who has earned a cult following posting pictures of the new masts on his Twitter feed.

Globally, the company has signed contracts to help build 50 5G networks, totalling around 150,000 base stations.

In recent weeks Trump has softened his position, agreeing that US firms should be able to sell some components to Huawei, a climbdown described by the Republican senator Marco Rubio as a “catastrophic mistake”.

One key issue to be resolved is what constitutes core and non-core equipment. In contrast to previous mobile phone technologies, 5G will have more sensitive information accessed closer to the edge – or the non-core – of the network, which Huawei’s critics could flag as a concern.

“There is the whole debate about where the core and access network are delineated,” said Howett. “But the reality is that the operators are all using Huawei to an extent – they are quite happy with it. The government has huge ambitions for what 5G can deliver to the economy, and a bad decision based on politics could seriously stop that from being a reality.”

Saturday, July 06, 2019

ACTU – Unfair Morrison tax plan will cost all of us

5 July 2019

Scott Morrison’s plan to put cleaners, farm workers and shop assistants in the same tax bracket as senior executives will see him slash government spending on infrastructure, aged care, pensions, hospitals, schools, scientific research, industry development, skills training and universities to make up for the lost revenue.

The peak body for working people has slammed the cuts, demanding Mr Morrison explain which services he will cut to pay for stage three of his tax plan.

The Morrison Government refused to pass modest tax cuts for working people on low and middle incomes without also attaching much larger handouts for those earning more than half a million dollars a year.

The third stage of the tax plan mainly benefits very high income earners.

The result is a flat tax for people paid between $45,000 and $200,000 a year – a regressive move that abolishes the progressive nature of Australia’s taxation system.

Mr Morrison’s assertion that the budget will not need to be cut relies on optimistic wage growth targets that the Coalition has repeatedly failed to reach in the past.

It will require substantial cuts to government services that working people depend on, will see people who do public service work funded by the commonwealth sacked, and will make our country less fair.

The cuts come at a time of sustained record low wages growth, meaning working people will have less capacity to pay the out-of-pocket costs incurred by looming federal government cuts.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:

  • “It is telling of this government’s priorities that they refused to pass a tax cut for people on low and middle incomes without also attaching much larger cuts for people on half a million dollars a year.
  • “The third stage of the tax cuts fundamentally changes the progressive nature of our tax system. It puts people on barely more than the minimum wage in the same tax bracket as people who are paid five times as much.
  • “Why should the office cleaner and the CEO be in the same tax bracket?
  • “Scott Morrison has set a time bomb ticking. They have no plan to reach their wage growth targets, and when they fail to meet those targets the result will be cuts to services and job losses in schools, hospitals, universities, aged care and the community sector.
  • “Scott Morrison needs to explain which services that working people rely on he is going to cut to pay for the third stage of these cuts. Will we have fewer nurses? Fewer hospital beds? Fewer teachers, or fewer schools? Will we have longer wait times? Lower Medicare rebates?
  • “Tax cuts are not a substitute for real wage increases. Scott Morrison and his Government’s plan will deliberately keep wages low.
  • “They’ve cut penalty rates. They’ve capped public service wages to produce real wage cuts. And they’ve admitted it’s a ‘design feature’ of their economic plan.                                                                   
  • “I invite Scott Morrison to take the sensible actions on wages that we have proposed – reverse penalty rate cuts, remove public service caps and support a living wage.”

UK – Jeremy Corbyn Birthday Greetings to Tax dodging Amazon Boss

Jeremy Corbyn has wished “many happy tax returns” to tax-dodging multinational Amazon on the company’s 25th “birthday” today.

The Labour leader told Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to respect his staff and pay his company’s fair share of tax.

In a birthday card, Mr Corbyn said: “Dear Jeff. Happy Birthday.
“You owe the British people millions in taxes that pay for the public services that we all rely on.
“This year, pay your fair share of taxes, give your hard-working staff a pay rise, and respect workers’ rights.

“Many Happy Tax Returns, Jeremy.”

Amazon UK has paid only £1.7 million in tax since 2017, despite its pre-tax profits having tripled to £72 million in that time.

The turnover at its British branch, which deals with the packaging and deliveries of goods to British addresses, has risen from 35 per cent from £1.46 billion in 2017 to £1.98 billion in 2018.

The company says that it operates legally and in line with British corporation tax law, which is revenue-based rather than profit-based.

However, the GMB union has consistently criticised the company for allegedly clamping down on the workplace conditions of the 27,500 workers it employs in 27 warehouses across the country.

At Amazon’s packing warehouse in Rugeley, West Midlands, over 600 ambulance calls have been made since 2015 due to workers suffering injuries ranging from major trauma to skeletal issues.

Employees have also alleged that management have dismissed concerns and allegations about sexual harassment in the workplace and have allowed dangerous working conditions to continue.

An Amazon spokesperson said that criticisms of the company are “false and unsubstantiated,” adding: “We offer a safe, modern working environment.”

GMB national officer for the online retailer Mick Rix welcomed Mr Corbyn’s warning to Amazon, telling the Star: “We hope Jeff Bezos heeds Jeremy’s message and marks Amazon’s 25th birthday by paying its fair share of tax and giving workers the rights they're entitled to — health and safety protections, respect at work and a union voice.

“If that doesn’t happen then we hope next year’s birthday card contains a letter from the government ordering Amazon to pay its fair share and treat its workers with respect.”

UK – They Are Concentration Camps

‘They are concentration camps,’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said of the immigration detention centres on the southern border of the US. Right-wingers angrily replied that she was either simply wrong, or making trivialising comparisons between mere brutal, dehumanising detention and the Nazi project of mass extermination. Not so, Ocasio-Cortez argued: concentration camps existed long before the death camps, and it’s an accurate term for the border facilities, which are characterised by the deliberate combination of extrajudicial internment, bureaucratised neglect and institutional cruelty.

She was right, though the camps’ defenders may have been relieved to be embroiled in an argument over terminology and historical propriety. It’s easier for the hairsprayed Lord Haw-Haws of Fox News to lambast a young socialist politician than to justify the cramped and freezing facilities where children sleep on concrete and are denied basic sanitary provisions, vulnerable to lice and infection. Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, a Guatemalan asylum seeker, died in a Texas holding facility in May, having been diagnosed with flu. He was 16 years old, and the fifth Guatemalan child to die in six months. The McAllen processing centre, where he had been held, is designed for 1500 people. In the week he died it held 2500, with sick detainees sleeping on floormats in an overflow tent.

The overcrowding is not unusual: Border Patrol facilities now operate at four times capacity, holding around 15,000 people; another 52,000 are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Lawyers who visit the camps return with stories of suicidal, self-injuring and traumatised children; older children are being used by the guards as substitute parents for toddlers. Last month, Senator Lindsey Graham proposed raising the detention period for minors – already often flouted in practice – from 20 to 100 days. Proposals for expanded detention facilities are careful to site them on federal land, inaccessible to state welfare checks, or look to the legal grey zone in Guantánamo, where Haitian migrants were detained in the 1990s.

However accurate AOC’s description, much of the moral weight behind the phrase ‘concentration camps’ comes from the collapse of its prehistory into the Holocaust; it’s hard not to flinch from any implied comparison. The policy of concentration or arbitrary detention, however barbaric, is different from the pursuit of mass extermination. The implied question is whether one can slide into the other. In two lectures collected in her last work, Mourning Becomes the Law (1996), derived in part from her experiences teaching and consulting for the Polish Commission on the Future of Auschwitz, Gillian Rose grapples with similar questions, arguing that this moral flinch comes from a desire to find a total break between our own political environment, our own habits of thought, and those of fascist Europe. ‘Never again’ may not be a historical imperative so much as an a priori claim about historical possibility. ‘We dare not understand,’ Rose writes, ‘because we fear that it may be all too understandable, all too continuous with what we are – human, all too human.’

Defenders of the Trump presidency have pointed to the camps’ antecedents under Obama, and ICE’s higher rate of deportation during his administration. Trump’s innovations have been in the realm of publicly displayed cruelty, from family separation to eruptions on Twitter, dangling threats of huge ICE raids to cow Democratic opponents. It is certainly possible to see this public cruelty as a qualitative break, but it also inherent in the border system itself.

The most striking recent precedent for Trump’s camps is the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under Joe Arpaio. An early Trump supporter and ardent believer in ‘birther’ conspiracy theories, ‘Sheriff Joe’ ran a jail he called ‘Tent City’ where inmates were exposed to Arizona’s baking daytime heat and freezing nights. He specialised in humiliation, and delighted in showing off his petty cruelties to the international media, giving inmates mouldy food or insufficient water in the desert heat. In private, among supporters, he boasted that he ran a concentration camp. Amnesty International condemned him; he doubled the press tours for his expanded facility. A DOJ investigation found him responsible for the most flagrant example of racial profiling in US history; a court eventually found him guilty of criminal contempt over related proceedings. Trump pardoned him.

The centrality of anti-migrant policy to Trump’s presidency, and the cruelty with which it is carried out, can tempt transatlantic observers into believing it is a uniquely American form of barbarism. But its continuity with policy elsewhere is striking: the third-party concentration camps run by Australia in Manus and Nauru, the miles of razor-wire along Hungary’s borders, the torture centres and slave markets of Libya to which desperate migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean are returned. Where Europe does not equal America, it exceeds it: Frontex and the vast Eurosur surveillance system, which would be the envy of US agencies, are politely overlooked by most Europeans.

Europe’s unwillingness to accept migrants increases the stress at its borders: Italy’s repugnant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has built his career on anti-migrant populism, declaring war on ‘illegals’ and drafting a new law to fine NGOs thousands of euros for rescuing drowning migrants. But Salvini’s sense of grievance is also directed at, and enabled by, the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which requires people to apply for asylum in the country through which they enter the union. The closest the EU has come to dealing with the problem is a proposal to build detention centres in North Africa; the walled Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, where migrants risk injury and death to cross the border and claim asylum, offer a preview of their operation. The US is distinguished, if at all, only by the honesty of its cruelty, and the efficiency of the wolf-eyed Stephen Miller in extirpating all political objection from migration agencies.

Any movement to defend the rights of migrants and refugees faces three significant problems. The first is that the architecture of international obligation governing refugees’ rights and states’ obligations to them (the 1951 convention, drawn up in the wake of mass wartime displacement, and its 1967 protocol, which recognised its universal application) has had its foundations undermined by powerful states, which routinely flout its restrictions on refoulement.

The second is a perceived mismatch between ethical obligation and political calculation: it is assumed that voters will punish politicians who are seen to prioritise the needs of those outside the political community; individual states are disincentivised to take unilateral action by others’ unwillingness to co-operate, and only the strongest politicians (as Merkel did in 2015) can risk it.

The third, which grows out of the second, is the genuflection of social democratic parties before the claim that ethnic homogeneity and hostility to migration are immutable characteristics of the working class, and a tendency to ground defences of migration in contingent economic advantage for the receiving country. Lurking behind these is an intuition, rarely expressed, that prosperous welfare polities are fragile things, in terms of both domestic consent and global inequality – and they will face serious challenges in responding to the waves of climate refugees the 21st century will produce.

The late Michael Dummett, with rigorous philosophical radicalism, took seriously the rhetorical premise of human equality and rights to freedom as foundations for a defence of migration. He also argued that the duty of a state to aid refugees must entail a duty to allow people to claim that aid. Everything from ‘carrier liability’ – a US invention placing visa duties on airlines rather than the state – to government press releases emphasising anti-migrant policy can be understood as attempts to forestall those duties. It is this derogation in practice from the universal rhetoric of human rights that led the UN’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, to warn that the coming century will see ‘climate apartheid’ and the disappearance of any shared sense of human obligation.

These are serious political problems that cannot be solved by slogan or willpower: the quiescence of the most pro-migrant Labour leadership in history suggests how intractable it is in the sphere of formal politics. The UK’s border regime has its own notorious, parochial cruelties – the ‘go home’ vans, the ‘hostile environment’, a network of detention centres and unlimited detention periods – but campaigns against them have been led by grassroots activists, NGOs and investigative journalists; Labour’s political commitments, though a vast improvement on the promises for migration controls that the previous leadership had carved into a rock, are only promises to tackle the worst excesses of an unjust system.

There are rays of hope: a jury wouldn’t convict an Arizona man who left water in the desert for migrants; Wayfair staff have walked out over the company’s agreement to supply the US border camps; there are protests in the UK against Yarl’s Wood; and an All Party Parliamentary Group on unlimited detention has been established. Writers on migration sometimes end their pieces by suggesting that the camps and detention centres prefigure a dangerous and authoritarian future; the truth is, with at least 18,000 drowned in the Mediterranean since 2014 and children dying in cages in America, that future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. The question is whether a different future is possible.

MEAA – Parliamentary CommitteeTrack Record Fails on Press Freedom

The Government’s press freedom inquiry will only delay urgent changes needed to protect the role of journalists and whistleblowers.

After the Australian Federal Police raids of journalists last month, there is now ample evidence available that a raft of national security laws over the past decade have diminished press freedom in Australia, and these problems should be fixed immediately without going through the process of a long inquiry.

The terms of reference for the inquiry to be conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) are seriously flawed because they manifestly fail to address the need for whistleblower protection – the issue which has sparked the current concerns about press freedom in Australia. MEAA says an inquiry should be conducted in public with broad terms of reference to include all press freedom issues, including whistleblower protection and freedom of information.

The Opposition had also proposed a joint parliamentary inquiry but this failed to pass the Senate. At least this inquiry, while flawed, would have canvassed these critical issues.

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy says: “The need for urgent amendments to existing laws is clear and well-known. Media organisations and other civil society groups have repeatedly pointed out the flaws in legislation that fail to adequately protect whistleblowers who seek to expose misconduct, fraud, corruption and threats to public health and safety. For years now, these flaws in national security laws have been told to politicians again and again. Holding yet another inquiry merely delays the necessary amendments that are required now.”

MEAA says it is particularly inappropriate having the PJCIS conduct a press freedom inquiry. “This committee has been informed repeatedly about the threats to whistleblowers and press freedom contained in some of the 75 national security laws passed by the Parliament since 2001. And almost without exception the committee has ignored these concerns or, at best, provided the merest band aid to deeply flawed laws. All the while, governments are classifying an increasing array of documents as secret when there is no justification for hiding that information from the community.

“The proof is in the current court actions directed at whistleblowers for telling the truth, coupled with the Australian Federal Police Force raids on a journalist’s home and the offices of the ABC in pursuit of whistleblowers. These issues that have been exposed by investigative journalists are clearly in the national interest and go to the heart of the public’s right to know what our governments are doing in our name. These actions against whistleblowers and the journalists they seek out to tell their stories demonstrate that there is a real crisis. Australia has gone down the path of pursuing and punishing truth-tellers,” he says.

Murphy adds: “The PJCIS inquiry cannot have credibility unless it recommends legislative changes to provide comprehensive protections for whistleblowers, an ongoing commitment to the public’s right to know through genuinely open and transparent government, and the decriminalisation of acts of journalism. Journalists should not go to prison for simply doing their job.

“If the government insists on such an inquiry, MEAA will participate and seek to appear as a witness. But it’s our firm belief that the issues and remedies are already well-known and it is urgent action by the Parliament that is needed now. This issue has sent shockwaves around the world - any delay to fixing the problem only continues to damage Australia’s reputation. It’s time that believing in press freedom is matched by action,” Murphy says.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Trump administration has dropped Citizen question

The Trump administration has dropped a controversial plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, marking a major victory for civil rights groups.

It comes just days after the Supreme Court blocked efforts to include the question, ruling that the government's justification seemed "contrived".

The White House argued it would bolster protections for minority voters.

But opponents said it would deter immigrant households from taking part in the once-a-decade population count.

Democrats and civil rights groups feared this reluctance would lead to millions of people - mostly Latinos and African Americans - going uncounted for.

The Supreme Court had temporarily blocked the citizenship question, saying the government had not provided adequate justification for it.

President Trump initially touted the idea of delaying the census to allow time to provide new legal arguments.

But on Tuesday his administration backed down.

"I respect the Supreme Court but strongly disagree with its ruling regarding my decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

"The Census Bureau has started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question," he added.

What is the citizenship question?
"Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

This question has not appeared on a US census for all Americans since 1950, though it has been asked to some subsets of the population between 1970 and 2000.

The population count helps the government draw up districts for state and local elections, and determine how much federal funding each state receives - a matter of hundreds of billions of dollars.


NAPLAN must go June 28, 2019

The announcement by the NSW Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell, that she will be calling on the Education Council to undertake a full review of NAPLAN, with a view to replacing it, will be welcomed by teachers and principals across Australia.

This is a significant and timely development, which reflects the concerns that have been expressed constantly by the teaching profession over the last decade.

We now call on ministers of education across Australia, including the federal minister, to back Sarah Mitchell’s call.

In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Minister argues, “In 2019 it is clear that a diagnostic test must be on demand, it must be linked to the curriculum [and] it must focus on student growth…”

As the Minister quite rightly observes, NAPLAN has none of those characteristics.

NAPLAN is a crude, unsophisticated and damaging test, developed by commercial interests, that has come to dominate the classroom experiences of young people and their teachers. In doing so, the test has supplanted the syllabuses, led to a narrowing of the curriculum, privileged low level drills over complex skills, created a test cramming industry, drowned schools in unreliable data, and, arguably, led to a decline in student outcomes.

It certainly is time for this flawed test to go. We could do so much better.

However, those vested and commercial interests that have been responsible for NAPLAN over the past decade must not be allowed any role in the development of any new sophisticated assessment tools. If assessment, including testing, is to serve the educational needs of children, it must be developed by teachers.

Now is the time for every education minister across Australia to proclaim their trust in the teaching profession.

⁠— Maurie Mulheron

ABC Belongs to All of Us

“With commercial business models — whether print or broadcast — failing, newsrooms shrinking, drama budgets dwindling, funding the ABC to tell Australian stories is more essential than ever.”

Jonathan Holmes, former host of Media Watch.

The ABC has never been under greater attack in its long and storied history than it is now. Almost $340 million has been cut from its base funding since 2014. 

Programs have been axed, locally produced drama is way down, foreign bureaux have been closed and hundreds of years of journalistic experience has been lost.

ABC journalists simply doing their job are attacked on an almost daily basis by Coalition politicians.

Attacks on the ABC are nothing new, but Quentin Dempster says the current hostility is “the worst we’ve seen”.

On top of funding cuts, “fair and balanced” legislation, a steady stream of politically-motivated complaints and inquiries, we now have the Liberal Party federal council voting 4:1 in favour of selling off the ABC.

But the ABC isn’t theirs to sell. It belongs to us, the Australian public, and it’s time to start fighting back.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Kerry O'Brien Powerful Logies speech

On Sunday night Kerry O’Brien was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame and received his award with a widely celebrated speech on the “failures of politics, failures of journalism [and] failures of society”. The following is a transcription of that speech. You can watch the full video here. Thank you, Waleed. 

Thank you, everyone. And can I just say how pleased I am not to be receiving this award posthumously.

Television was only six years old when I discovered journalism in a tiny television newsroom, Channel Nine, upon Mount Coot-Tha, overlooking Brisbane. I worked for every commercial network, had some great shared moments and made lasting friendships.

The ABC has never been the sole bastion of good television journalism but I was always in my natural home at the ABC because the pursuit of excellence wasn’t just permitted, it was expected.

As the importance of journalism became more and more obvious to me, absolutely fundamental to a healthy democracy despite its many imperfections — that’s the many imperfections of journalism as well as democracy — it also added more meaning to my life. And being paid to satisfy your curiosity and feed your imagination and have fun along the way didn’t hurt either. But the joy of it, the joy of it has been fed largely by my wonderfully collegiate culture that I experienced at all those terrific programs.

This Day Tonight, Four Corners, Lateline and 7.30, we all competed with each other vigorously but from a bedrock of mutual respect — even love. Those friendships have been incredibly important in my life. The other joy has been to watch new talent emerge and to feel that in some way, I’ve helped to nurture it. There have been the tough times, the budget cuts to the ABC again and again and again, driven more by a desire to punish and by an ideological obsession than because the public broadcaster was inefficient.

In my view, the day Jonathan Shier was appointed to run the ABC in the Howard years was the beginning of a dark time in that place. So, some of the best and the brightest were shown the door in that time. 7.30 was in the eye of the storm. I was described in headlines, as you saw a little while ago, as “dead man talking”.

But on that program, we walked a straight line and allowed our work to speak for us. The program could have died in that era, but it’s still there — still going strong, still driven by good people, still accused of bias, but still walking a straight line. And the ABC is still forging its way through strong headwinds, probably never threatened more than it is today by a combination of forces, cash-strapped in a totally disrupted, digitally driven industry, and still confronting the same sad ideological prejudice.

And now, even the Federal Police — some of whom have themselves leaked to us in the past — have seen fit to raid the place. And yet as I sat here tonight and watched nomination after nomination after nomination for the ABC, including for most popular categories which rely on a public vote, I felt so much better about the place.

My message, my message to every person working in Aunty’s embrace today is simple: keep your heads held high and your eye firmly fixed on delivering programs of relevance, quality and integrity for people in every corner of Australia and those same people will repay your loyalty with theirs as they always have.

And to the rest of the country: don’t ever again allow politicians to diminish the public broadcaster. It is one of the most precious institutions we have. Along with reporting the bad news, my colleagues and I have told many stories of hope and inspiration, and mostly I’ve been proud to call my self a journalist. Yet, we the journalists have to share the responsibility for the great failures of our time. A time of enormous ferment and challenge, failures of politics, failures of journalism, failures of society in the end.

For instance 40 years after powerful evidence first kicked in that human-caused climate change threatened the world with an existential disaster, we’re still stuck in the mire of drab, dishonest arguments that will come at great cost to future generations and we the journalists have not cut through the fake news effectively. We have not properly held politicians to account.

But there is one big glaring gap in this nation’s otherwise great story that I want to spend a brief minute on tonight: the failure to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. When I started my career, First Australians were not even counted in the national census. On paper, they didn’t exist. I was first personally exposed to the awful racism this country is capable of when I visited Alice Springs more than 45 years ago, and sadly you don’t have to go too far to see it still today. A trip to any prison will do it.

We all have an opportunity together in this term of the federal parliament to understand and support what is embodied in the Uluru Statement From The Heart. A remarkable document, forged in unity by more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander leaders, representing the oldest surviving culture on the face of the earth. [It’s] a culture that adds a richness that is unique to this continent and yet we other Australians are mostly ignorant of it.

The Uluru statement represents no threat to a single individual in any corner of this country, and certainly no threat to the integrity of parliament. And if you’re told that, don’t you believe it. On the contrary, it will add much to the integrity of our nation. We like to be seen as one nation made up of many parts. Now, it’s time to prove it.

The last and most important thing of all for me, personally tonight, is to acknowledge with gratitude and love the precious part family has played in my life and been so central to it. My children — and indulge me for 10 seconds here — Lara, Chris, Anthony, Jack, Ben and Meg; and my grandchildren, Joe, Gigi, Billy, Harrison, Tom and Mason have been at the centre of my life. Sue Javes, my wife and best friend for 40 years, warned me tonight not to say how much she’d helped me in my career — as Karl Stefanovic had said here at the Logies a few years ago, because it’d probably cost him a couple of million. Sorry darling, you’re going to have to lower your sights.

The truth is, I have been so lucky and so privileged to be able to call on Sue’s impeccable judgment, instinctive wisdom and good humour throughout our years together. She also told me to avoid using the word “journey” tonight. So I’ll close simply by saying: this has been a wonderful road to have been allowed to travel. Thanks to all of you, especially in the living rooms of Australia, who have travelled that road with me.

Monday, July 01, 2019

ACTU – Dangers of Secret Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal being negotiated in secret between the Australian government and 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including China and India could worsen conditions for working people in Australia and across the region.

The peak body for working people warns the proposed deal will expand the power of global corporations and locks in a race to the bottom on wages and conditions for working people in Australia.

Sections of the agreement may weaken protections for Australian jobs and expose a greater number of temporary visa holders to exploitation.

The ACTU is concerned that it would weaken labour market testing obligations, meaning employers would not have to advertise jobs locally first before taking on a temporary overseas worker.

The RCEP is also likely to include an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism which gives foreign corporations the right to bypass our courts and sue our governments for making laws they don’t like.

The ACTU calls for the Australian government only to support an agreement with enforceable workers’ rights in line with International Labour Organisation standards.

It also calls on the Government to reject any deal that weakens protections for local jobs or allows foreign companies to sue Australian Governments in offshore trade commissions.

The priority should be on maximizing jobs and training opportunities for working people in Australia – citizens and permanent residents.

 Quotes attributable to ACTU President Michele O’Neil:

  • “Australia should only be part of trade deals that put working people first and benefit all working people.
  • “At the moment, RCEP is an unacceptable deal that lets foreign companies sue Australian tax payers if they don’t like our laws.
  • “Working people in Australia deserve the assurance that they will have first access to Australian jobs, particularly at a time when unemployment and underemployment are high. There are also unacceptable levels of exploitation of short term visa workers.
  • “The Morrison Government are signing away our sovereignty by giving big overseas corporations more power to dictate domestic policy.
  • “The RCEP could contribute further to a race to the bottom on workers’ rights, wages and conditions.
  • “People are not commodities and trade agreements should include commitments that protect working people in Australia and across the region.”