11 May 2022

Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer [$]: “It speaks volumes about how skewed our politics — and the media reporting of it — has become that Anthony Albanese saying workers’ real wages should not fall is deemed controversial by the press and denounced by Scott Morrison… [who] says that there’s no magic wand to lift wages, and that businesses raise wages, not government… But the history of the past decade is Australian businesses don’t lift wages. What they do is use multi-year enterprise agreements to lock workers into lower wages growth, demand increases in immigration to put downward pressure on wages, rely on the Coalition stacking the Fair Work Commission with employer group representatives and Coalition mates, and engage in economy-wide wage theft that has left workers out of pocket by billions. And all along profits rose at the expense of wages, with the profit share of income surging from 2015 at the expense of the labour share — it currently stands near the all-time high level of 2020 — with real unit labour costs falling 9% between 2015 and 2021. Employers have banked all that, while ordinary households were stuck with real wages at 2013 levels. … Albanese should welcome the feral reaction to his monstrous idea that workers shouldn’t go backwards for reasons that have nothing to do with them. And he should signal, loud and clear, to voters tempted to see the whole political and economic game as rigged against them, that as prime minister he’s not prepared to tolerate it. It might do more for politics than just winning an election.”

28 April 2022

Bernard Keane: ”The Greens, meanwhile, have demonstrated there’s at least one party taking the climate emergency seriously, unveiling a policy to end coal-fired power by 2030 and ban coal exports by then, ending new fossil fuel projects, and guaranteeing jobs for workers affected by decarbonisation.  Oddly enough, the Greens’ plan is the closest we’ve seen from a prominent party to the plan put forward by the international lobby group for fossil fuels, the International Energy Agency, to reach genuine net zero (i.e. nothing like Morrison’s farcical ‘net zero by magic’ policy) by 2050, which includes phasing out unabated coal emissions in developed countries by 2030. It’s a demonstration of the extraordinary extent of state capture in Australia that the major parties being profoundly outside the global consensus on the need for urgent climate action attracts little if any media scrutiny. Though, of course, much of the media is itself an arm of the fossil fuel industry, so don’t expect to hear much about the Greens’ plan.”

Tim Dunlop: ”Our existence is mediated more than we like to admit, to an extent we generally don’t notice. To help us control the information that saturates our every waking moment, we rely on mental shortcuts, heuristics, and everyone from advertisers to politicians lean into these shortcuts… In politics, this is why easily demonstrable falsehoods persist: that the Coalition are better economic managers; that working class means men in factories and high-vis vests; that deficits are always bad… It is easier to regurgitate received wisdom than to pick it apart. It is more agreeable to maintain our prejudices than see past them. … When we talk about the power of the media, then, this is how we should be thinking about it: not that a single article or newsclip is going to sway people one way or another, but that the media helps create an overall environment that boxes us into certain ways of thinking. The box is never completely airtight, and other institutions build their own boxes, but the media — broadly understood — helps maintain strict perimeters around our thinking about almost everything. That is the nature of its power… and so it will always remain a key progressive goal to hold the media to account and provide alternative outlets. Put it another way: we happily talk about the importance of ‘soft power’ in the projection of our interests in foreign policy, but we are just as susceptible to it at home, and the media remain the primary tool for the dissemination of that power.”

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20 April 2022

First: “Scott Morrison is defending his record on protecting manufacturing jobs after a factory he visited conceded within 24 hours it is sacking Australian workers and outsourcing work overseas. Mr Morrison on Tuesday visited a Rheem Australia facility in Parramatta, spruiking an election commitment to create 1.3 million jobs within five years. But Rheem later confirmed there would be job losses at the same factory, after a restructure to shift some operations to the company’s Vietnam site.”

And then: “The industrial relations watchdog will investigate claims Perth shipbuilder Austal paid 30 Filipino workers as little as $9 an hour. The company has been accused of exploiting the workers just months after being awarded a $350 million defence contract by the Morrison government. … ETU WA secretary Peter Carter … said the extension of their visas in May also coincided with Austal laying off 30 WA workers, sparking concerns the company may have been seeking to slash its wages bills.” The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated the ETU’s claims and agreed that underpayments had occurred, issuing compliance notices against Austal. But that didn’t stop Morrison using Austal for a campaign photo op.

There seems to be a bit of a pattern forming…

10 February 2022

The High Court has made another in a series of judgments aiming to unwind decades of legal progress, returning employment law to a black-letter fantasy-land where there is no power imbalance between bosses and workers, and where the words on the page are more real than the actual circumstances of employment: “A majority of the High Court, led by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, overruled the long-running approach by some courts to look beyond a worker’s contract to the social reality of the work relationship, and instead relied almost solely on the terms of the contract itself. … Experts say the decision effectively means that if lawyers draft a contract correctly businesses can avoid minimum award pay and conditions, workers’ compensation, superannuation, redundancy and other statutory requirements. … University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said the decision ‘widened a loophole’ that had existed in other rulings… ‘What the High Court majority has said carries with it the implication that it will be much easier for businesses to source labour from contractors rather than employees and achieve significant cost savings from doing so,’ he said. … Barrister David Chin, SC, said the ruling was a ‘significant shift’ in the courts’ approach to employment contracts that explicitly rejected an unequal power relationship between worker and employer as a relevant factor. ‘There can be little doubt that the approach of the High Court is to treat the construction of employment contracts like any other contract.'”

1 February 2022

Bernard Keane is angry: “Hundreds of Australian aged care residents died miserable deaths in January as a consequence of the Morrison government’s staggering failures on aged care regulation, the rollout of booster shots and its refusal to address the aged care workforce crisis. The numbers are horrific, and a national disgrace: according to the government’s own figures, 389 aged care residents have perished as a result of COVID in January alone — far more than the total for 2021 — 282 — and already more than half the 2020 total which was dominated by another outbreak in [Commonwealth-regulated] aged care facilities in Victoria. … Literally every Commonwealth response to the pandemic within its aged care responsibility has been bungled and delayed, and the same disastrous errors have been repeated: the original vaccination rollout; the booster rollout; RAT supplies; PPE supplies; interventions by the Commonwealth aged care quality regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. … [T]hat hundreds of seniors are dying two years into a pandemic due to persistent government failure is a national tragedy that lies at the feet of Colbeck, his portfolio minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. There is no excuse for, no explaining away, no dodging, this disaster. The blood of the dead is on their hands. And the grisly toll of their incompetence grows more horrific each day.”

Morrison is now offering a miserly $800 payment to aged care workers, but as Keane points out, he “has failed to adopt the main [aged care] royal commission recommendation to support the current Fair Work Commission case for a substantial pay increase to retain aged care workers in an increasingly tight labour market — something Labor’s Anthony Albanese committed to do at the weekend.”

27 January 2022

Alan Kohler — hardly a raging lefty: “[W]eak wage growth has been the most pressing economic problem for years, and arguably the most pressing social problem is the financial disadvantage of women. Too many jobs are chronically underpaid, and they are mainly the ones done by women: aged care, child care, nursing, waiting, interior design, book editing — in fact virtually any job done mainly by women is both undervalued and underpaid. … Right now, there is a ballooning crisis in health care and aged care because workers simply aren’t paid enough for the pressure they’re under in the pandemic: there’s no buffer, and unions are warning of an exodus from the industry if the job is not valued more highly. It’s not so much that individual employers don’t want to pay their staff more, although there’s undoubtedly some of that. Most businesses value their staff and want them to be happy. But they can’t charge their customers more, or think they can’t. With child care there is a circular ceiling on prices: operators can’t charge more than the mother earns, otherwise it’s not worth going to work and having the children looked after by someone else (that is, another woman). But as discussed, women are often poorly paid, which flows to those looking after their children.Government subsidies for aged care, child care and health care could be increased sufficiently to lift wages, thereby socialising the solution rather than putting the burden entirely on those using the services.”

26 January 2022

Prof Megan Davis [$]: Changing the date is akin to lipstick on a pig. It moves the date but doesn’t address the more complex underlying issue that drives anti-Australia Day sentiment, and that is the place of First Nations people in our nation. … The Uluru Statement from the Heart … seeks a primary reform — the right to be heard. It calls for a constitutionally protected voice to parliament for First Nations people. It presents a vision for the ­nation that is anchored in the ancient cultures of this continent. It combines better indigenous participation in the democratic life of the state, as Aboriginal advocates have been asking for over a century, with the agency of a ­national referendum. … The voice to parliament is in effect a duty to consult First Nations on laws and policies that impact them. Closing the Gap is decade-long evidence that this does not happen now. The bushfires and the vaccine rollout are recent evidence that First Nations are excluded from policy discussions on matters that impact upon them. … [The Uluru Statement] is a rallying call for all Australians. It is the voice to parliament referendum — more than any debate over a future republican model — that would truly unite our nation.”

Claire G Coleman [$]: “Every year 1994, on January 26, Australians have celebrated the invasion and subsequent genocide of Indigenous people. Every year, … [t]he calls to change the date, the calls to abolish Australia Day, become increasingly loud. Perhaps people are beginning to see what the day truly is for many people — a spasm of jingoistic white nationalist fervour and an insult to Indigenous Australians, the survivors of genocide. … The original decision to celebrate January 26, to hold Australia’s national day on the date that the continent was invaded and the genocide of Indigenous peoples began, was a political one. It can be seen as nothing more than a statement of intent, to celebrate and idealise Australia as a British colony and, above all, as white. … I consider it the responsibility of the coloniser to fight against the colony, even to dismantle it. You outnumber us, you have the political power, although you apparently lack the political will to do better than you are doing. … The colonisers benefit from the colony. Every coloniser and descendent of colonisers, every non-Indigenous person, is advantaged by the colony. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the colonisers work to dismantle their own privilege. That is something for you to reflect on: how much do you believe in justice? Even that is not enough. It is time to ask yourself: what can you do for the people of this land, what are you willing to do? Do you think you are doing enough? Honestly?”

25 January 2022

Julie Edwards: ”[W]e justly talk about the impact of climate change on our environment, our homes and livelihoods and our future generations, seldom do we reflect on the ways in which the existing harms of the prison system overlap with and exacerbate the impacts of climate change for some of the most marginalised in our community. … In December 2018, a riot at Alice Springs Correctional Centre was linked to a heat wave, exacerbated by overcrowding and a lack of air conditioning in cells. Excessive, prolonged heat takes its toll in a variety of direct and indirect ways:  disrupting sleep, causing health problems, and creating conflict. Between January and July 2019, Alice Springs experienced 129 days over 35°C and 55 days over 40°C. … Just last week in Roebourne, a small mining town in the north-west of Western Australia, incarcerated people sweltered through an unbearable 50-degree day in small prison cells without air conditioning. … [W]e need to rethink our justice systems. We require a more humane response that prioritises addressing the underlying causes of offending to drive down the need for prisons in the first place. … This reorientation, from prisons to interventions that hold people to account and support people to lead crime-free, safe and healthy lives, should be seen as an integral part of a just transition to a sustainable future.

(In 2020, the WA Labor government defended the lack of air conditioning in the Roebourne prison, saying “there are some people who literally don’t like air conditioning”.)