21 January 2020

The Australian Republic Movement has at last understood that building support for a specific constitutional model is the only way to win change. In an email to supporters, National Director Sandy Biar explained: “There have been many suggestions put forward about the way to resolve our differences, including plebiscite votes. The difficulty with this approach is that it entrenches division rather than builds agreement. We will not build the threshold of support required to win a referendum by campaigning against each other. We also owe it to voters to clearly explain what reforms we are proposing rather than asking ‘in-principle’ questions that lack detail. … We now have a window of opportunity to build on that common ground towards a consensus position that reflects what the public want and the parliament will accept. [Our new strategy] will focus on building consensus between supporters of an Australian republic towards a clearly articulated model for constitutional reform. That will involve a national consultation over the next 18-24 months that seeks the views of Australians from all walks of life, and allows them to have their say about what should be included in the consensus model. … Once that consensus model has been developed, the ARM will campaign to build support in the community for it to be taken directly to a referendum.” Make a submission.

20 January 2020

One of Australia’s most militant employer law firms, Ashurst, has been systematically underpaying junior lawyers: “The same top-tier law firm advising Woolworths on its $300 million underpayment scandal has been underpaying its own staff, as gruelling work hours threaten to spark an underpayment crisis in the legal industry. Big six law firm Ashurst has undertaken an extraordinary 10-year review into whether its $80,000-a-year graduate lawyers were paid below minimum rates as a result of working long hours. Individual back payments to date are as high as $15,000.” But there is no connection, it says, between its mistreatment of its employees and its advice to clients about mistreatment of their employees: “Our employment practice is the leading practice in the market, but it is not responsible for administration of the firm’s payroll processes.” This is likely the tip of the iceberg: “Ashurst was one of 20 law firms that opposed new award clauses which, from March, will require firms to record hours and conduct annual pay reconciliations to ensure salaries cover penalty rates and overtime pay once actual hours worked are considered. … However, at least eight of those firms… are now conducting underpayment audits.” (Thanks to strong Liberal Party links, Ashurst does a lot of lucrative work for anti-union regulators like the ABCC and ROC — while ripping off its own staff.)

17 January 2020

In case you missed them late last year (I did!), here are John Falzon’s three steps for putting 2019 behind us: “1. Work with what you’ve got. Not what you wish, or imagine, you have. If we want to change the course of history, we need to build our grassroots movement. We need to start from where we are, not from somewhere else. … It is particularly up to those of us who are members of the organised collective movement to reach out to people who are not, keeping in mind that one of the key tenets of neoliberalism is to dis-organise and atomise us or, at worst, turn us against each other. 2. So join! It is the best defence against this atomisation and the best chance of changing the future instead of just raging against it. … Join the community organisations or social movements that matter to you, not because they are perfect but because it is only collectively that we can achieve something good. 3. Know how to tell the story. It’s everything. We love best the stories that speak to our lives, that tell us what we feel to be true but are unable to articulate. … [W]e do not have the right to indulge in the luxury of despair. What we have, and have in spades, is the obligation to engage in the hard work of hope.”

16 January 2020

When Liberal candidate Georgina Downer turned up to present a giant Liberal-branded cheque to a bowling club, it prompted an inquiry by the Australian National Audit Office into the administration of the Community Sport Infrastructure Program by minister Bridget McKenzie — and the report is damning. Disregarding the formal criteria, her office instead used their own pork-barrelling criteria to make decisions: “The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the Minister’s Office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the Coalition at the 2019 Election. … The significant majority of [unmeritorious] applications (71 per cent of the number of applications and 74 per cent of the funding) were in Coalition electorates or ‘targeted’ electorates.” Worst of all — contrary to McKenzie’s claim that “no rules were broken” — the whole plot was illegal: “Throughout the granting process all parties acted as if the Minister was able to be the approver. No section 11 directions were issued to Sport Australia in 2018–19. In the absence of a section 11 direction, there was no legal authority evident to the ANAO under which the Minister was able to be the approver of CSIG program grants to be paid from the money of Sport Australia.” Heads should roll.

15 January 2020

Will Stronge argues for both a Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services: “With regards to some basic needs such as non-prescription medicines, local bus or rail fares, or access to the internet, free-at-the-point-of-use services could evidently do the trick. Indeed, some of the basic activities that we require to be able to engage in society could also be greatly facilitated by free services: family outings, for example, would be made much cheaper should there be free transport and free public leisure facilities. With regards to others however, services are clearly not appropriate: adequate nightwear, clothing for all members of the family, (personal) leisure equipment, a mobile phone, toys, celebrating special occasions, and so on. These basic needs constitute most of the list in fact. … Basic services and basic income are each very good at meeting different needs: services make more sense for commonly used, necessary infrastructures such as transport and health, whilst an income floor would allow people to acquire the basic items of everyday life in the 21st century and participate in socially-recognised activities. In these ways, they are not equivalent. However, deployed together they would be an incredibly powerful mechanism for eliminating poverty and taking people out of a scarcity lifestyle”.

Michael Bones argues the secular left should look to churches as a model for building solidarity: “I support the freedom to associate, and the right to protest. But I worry that the climate movement is too heavily reliant on street protests when there are other, less eye-catching but incredibly powerful ways to organise for social change. … The progressive movement could benefit from broadening our definition of what it means to protest. We think it looks like flooding the streets with signs and chants. But we’re fighting slogans with slogans. We’re excluding everyone who doesn’t like big crowds, can’t take time off work, or lives too far away. And street protests are inherently unsustainable — as the Occupy movement showed, you can’t protest forever. … What if we directed the big burst of energy from protests into smaller, more frequent gatherings? What if a life lived in protest involved taking time out every weekend to gather and serve your local community? To join together under a more unified story, young and old, to sing songs, read ancient wisdom literature, mediate, serve the poor, and develop dense networks with people beyond our immediate interest groups? … Let’s learn from how [churches] build spiritual community, and start doing it. Because it’s good for wellbeing, and it works.”

14 January 2020

Erica X Eisen argues We Need More Public Monuments to Animals: “Creating monuments to ordinary life and to animals … centers not the ‘great’ but the small, challenging viewers simultaneously to accommodate these usually unrecounted stories into their conceptions of history and to reconsider the preeminence of these so-called ‘great men of history.’ … I see discussions of memorializing animals as a way of opening up our thinking about memorials in general: what memorials do, who they’re for, why they exist, and what they look like. … Animal monuments of this type have the potential to open up the broader question of how we can pay artistic homage to things that are not human — to forests, to rivers, to languages that have died, to the darkness of the night sky prior to the invention of the light bulb. If monuments in the urban landscape represent nodes of memory, reflection, and action, then a repertoire of monuments that consists so heavily of battle commemorations and busts of politicians not only fails to live up to the radical potential of the genre — it also largely lacks any engagement with the space around it. … An urban landscape that actively remembers the trees and animals, the populations and species that have been part of its creation would pave the way for a more humane future for all forms of life.”

Killian Plastow: “The chief executives of Australia’s biggest companies have earned [sic] more money since the start of 2020 than the average worker will make all year. … And that comes despite a banking royal commission which claimed the scalps of numerous CEOs and prompted regulator APRA to consider tighter rules for pay cheques. On average, full-time workers in Australia earn $1633.80 a week, or roughly $84,950 a year. The chief executives of Australia’s largest 100 listed companies, however, received an average annual income of $5.66 million in the 2018 financial year, according to the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI). … Even after tax, someone earning that much each year would take home about $58,205.83 per week — 68.5 per cent of the average worker’s pre-tax annual income. … The median Australian income — exactly between the top and bottom 50 per cent of incomes — in 2018 was only $55,063 based on numbers given to The New Daily by Treasury. The high incomes paid to ASX100 chief executives and other senior business leaders work to drag the average up, masking the larger disparity between workers and their bosses.”

9 January 2020

Ben Jenkins has written a seething commentary on the Morrison Government’s bushfire response: “It’s not just that they ignored warnings about this specific fire season, though they did; nor is it that they denied funding to the rural fire services when they begged for it, although they also did that. It’s that from the moment the country started to burn, the people who run it have done everything in their power to ignore the true scope of the catastrophe — even as the blaze spread, the air grew thick with smoke and people began to die. … But this isn’t about people, it’s about ideology, and to accept the unprecedented scale of the fires and act accordingly is to accept that the climate is changing and something needs to be done. That’s it. … And so warnings weren’t heeded, rescue efforts weren’t funded, Hawaiian jaunts weren’t called off, not through incompetence, but through sheer bloodymindedness. If you take one thing away from all of this, know that there are people in both the government and the media who would sooner see the country burn than confront the enormity of this problem.” Read the whole article for a disheartening summary of the government’s appalling behaviour so far — and remember, “There are two more months of summer left.”

Anthony Forsyth says Australian labour law is unbalanced in its treatment of emergency situations: “[T]here is no specific form of leave available to an employee whose house has been burnt down. They would have to rely on other forms of leave in these circumstances, such as annual leave or (if applicable) personal/carer’s leave. … In contrast, under the Fair Work Act, business owners have the right to stand down staff without pay where work must stop due to circumstances beyond the employer’s control — such as the impact of bushfires.” Volunteer firefighters aren’t much better off, with the Act only allowing unpaid leave for a “reasonable” time, to be negotiated with their boss at the time of the emergency. Union-negotiated EBAs often include stronger clauses, such as guaranteed paid leave, but this “patchwork” is increasingly inadequate as bushfire seasons intensify. Forsyth notes: “Some union leaders, such as Godfrey Moase of the United Workers Union, have therefore called for the Fair Work Act to be amended to ensure that all workers have the right to paid emergency services leave as part of the National Employment Standards. It seems like a necessary step that will ensure all in the community are bearing the increasingly heavy load presented by the bushfire season beginning earlier and lasting longer than in years past.”