2 December 2020

Rick Morton: “There are 612 private and non-profit nursing homes in Victoria with more than 50,000 beds. Almost 2000 Covid-19 cases were recorded among residents in these homes during the second wave, and they accounted for 655 deaths. A further 1294 infections were acquired by aged-care workers in these facilities. By contrast, in Victoria’s 156 state-run residential aged-care homes, which have more than 5600 beds, there were only three residents who contracted coronavirus and zero deaths. This was an infection rate of 0.1 per cent, compared with more than 6 per cent in the state’s private aged-care network. There is one key difference between the private aged-care market and Victoria’s state-run homes: only the latter has legislated minimum staffing ratios that govern clinical care of residents. … Victoria’s state-run facilities have the highest staffing ratios anywhere in the country. According to research released by the aged-care royal commission, public aged-care homes run by the Victorian government, and a handful in other states, are the best performing in the country in 21 of 24 clinical indicators. They are also the best performing in all 14 of the other quality benchmarks, which include resident feedback and workforce conditions. The royal commission found that, in 2018-19, a total of 119 qualified nursing staff minutes were spent on each resident in each state-run facility every day. This is more than three times what’s spent in the private and non-profit sector, where the Commonwealth requires no minimum staff ratios.”

25 November 2020

The Transport Workers’ Union’s Michael Kaine: “In just the past two months, five delivery drivers have been killed in Australia – the ones we know of since they are not recorded as workplace deaths. The deaths represent the total failure of a system which never should have been allowed to thrive. It’s a system that denies its workers sick leave, the right to challenge unfair sackings, training, protective gear and insurance. It stands as a blatant contradiction of the working conditions generations of Australians fought for. Riders get no minimum pay and are pushed to work at breakneck speed. Yet they have no right to training or proper protective gear. Multinational corporations such as Uber and Amazon promote themselves as shiny and futuristic. Yet they reap billions the same way their industrialists forefathers did: off the backs of vulnerable, voiceless workers. We’ve allowed their gig economy to quietly establish itself as an unregulated, secondary labour market. … Workers need rights that are enshrined in law and an independent tribunal system that can hear their concerns and give them the benefits and protections they need. In New South Wales independent contractors who own their own trucks have long had access to a system which allows them to band together and demand standards for their work, including rates which cover all the costs of their labour and business. There is nothing impenetrable or futuristic about the exploitative model behind delivery apps. Australians have seen it all before and we can sort it out again with just a modicum of political will.”

Matt Wade: “The uber-rich are having a great pandemic. Despite the biggest economic downturn in living memory the Australian Financial Review’s latest Rich List revealed the combined worth of the nation’s 200 wealthiest individuals increased by about 25 per cent compared with last year. … Many of our wealthiest families were able to ride the pandemic storm then reap huge gains from the ‘V-shaped’ rebound in asset prices, led by technology firms. In Australia, some miners have benefited hugely from a China-fuelled iron ore boom. But there’s no V-shaped recovery in the real economy. Millions of workers lost their jobs or watched incomes shrink as the coronavirus outbreak pushed the economy into recession. Almost 1 million Australians are officially unemployed and the economy is still being propped up by government and Reserve Bank emergency measures eight months after the onset of the pandemic. The billionaires’ bonanza at a time of such deep economic crisis begs an important question: will the pandemic leave us a more unequal society?“ We will, because that is what we have chosen. Morrison has deliberately pushed people back into poverty, and now — egged on by the usual ideologues [$] — he is planning another attack on workers’ rights.

24 November 2020

Rebecca Solnit: “Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that ‘you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.’ This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore ‘fuck your feelings’ shirts at its rallies and popularized the term ‘snowflake.’ Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naive version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. … But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?”

17 November 2020

After earlier ruling a McDonalds franchisee was liable for its threats to ban toilet breaks, the Federal Court has imposed a significant penalty — $10,000 directly to the worker who stuck her neck out, and a further $76,000 to her union for taking the civil prosecution to court. After explaining his decision, Justice Logan added: “Ms Staines and the Union have each well-served the public interest. That is not an abstract concept. All Australians have an interest in the conduct of industrial relations, including the employment of workers, according to law. Parliament has provided for civil penalties to be imposed for contraventions of the FWA [Fair Work Act]. … Public resources allocated to police the FWA are limited. The financial ability of an individual worker to police a perceived contravention of the FWA is also in most cases limited. Workers, collectively, via a trade union, are thereby better equipped to do this. The policing by trade unions of compliance with industrial laws is a longstanding, legitimate role of trade unions. This does not just serve the interests of the particular workers concerned, or the trade union. It serves the national interest. … It is … important and necessary that the service of a trade union of a national interest be noted. For that reason, I conclude these reasons for judgment by recognising the service to the national interest by the Union in the circumstances of the present case.”

Alistair Kitchen: “The sad, joyful truth of democracies is that they are held together with sticky tape and goodwill. They are the result of symbiotic, mutualistic behaviour between participants who, from day to day, operate as enemies, but when the time comes find faith in one another. Functioning democratic states are not simply the result of laws. They are made up of laws, and conventions, and norms, and practices, and sheer, sheer, unadorned faith. All of these are necessary to liberal democracy. The Republican Party knows this and takes advantage of it. The choice from the Republican Party and its propaganda arm, Rupert Murdoch’s media apparatus, to act against these foundational requirements of democracy has given it a structural advantage in our political culture. And the failure of liberals to understand the extent of that bad faith — to be fooled over and over again — has allowed this anti-democratic spirit to run unchecked. Their failure to reaffirm the value of democracy, which has its expression in egalitarianism, has allowed that shared simultaneous commitment to dwindle in our political culture. No democracy can survive without it. It is after all because of, rather than in spite of, the fragility of US democracy that Americans insist their system is imbued with ‘checks and balances’. But it must not disappoint us that the life or death of what we call liberal democracy will depend not on laws but on that irresolute quality of human beings, faith. Instead the beautiful fragility of this system asks that we are clear-eyed in our view of those who act against its spirit.”

13 November 2020

Australia’s leaders don’t understand the experience of poverty, says Rick Morton: “It would be nice if they tried, though. Money is a force that acts on time and space. It can extend both, quite literally prolonging our lives, if there is enough of it. And its absence can shrink the borders of our world. The lack of it can and does cut short our time on this Earth. Vast chunks of the Australian welfare apparatus, and especially the malignant employment services sector, exist because we just do not trust poor people with cash. In the latter case, it actually costs money to enforce this instinct. There has been no effort to understand the psychology of bare-knuckle survival. Rather, a prodigious, emotionally barren attempt at blame and punishment has taken root. And, like the foundations of prosperity gospel, we have allowed it to happen because many of us believe in the atomic truth of these welfare proposals: that money measures worth and moral character. It never has.”

Liam Hogan: “Courts are premodern entities surrounding power. The monarchs of old régime Europe had them; most famously at Versailles and at Madrid, but they seem to have been a common habit everywhere where power centralised, and existed around the Sultan in Istanbul, around Mughal princes, at the Forbidden City in Beijing, and around the Emperor and Shogun of Japan. The cultures of Australian State and Federal government, containing as well their press galleries and lobby groups, are a new-old democratic form of ‘court’, with everything that implies. The personal role of the monarch has simply been abolished in our case and replaced with the symbolic sovereign of ‘the election’, an arbitrary absolute presence that demands complete obedience, even reverence. In the gigantic-kitsch New Parliament House in Canberra the court even finds its own bakufu in which all the arms of State (elected, public service, press, military) can gather, physically-symbolically. … The culture of courts was and is marked by intrigue, powerful charismatic leaders-behind-the-scenes, small constantly forming and re-forming groups, favourites, juntas, camarillas, ostentatious displays of virtue and shaming, and a ‘spill’ culture of sudden shocking changes. In societies where politics is genuinely conducted at a level of secrecy and many-levels-of-intrigue, conspiratorial and magic thinking takes hold with the public at large. Does this sound familiar?”

ANU’s Elise Klein: “[T]he government continues to rely on anecdotes and the widely criticised 2017 evaluation by ORIMA Research as ‘proof’ for the roll out of the Cashless Debit Card. In 2018, the Australian National Audit Office found the ORIMA evaluation was methodologically flawed and unable to provide any credible conclusions regarding the real impact of the trial.” Meanwhile: “Peer-reviewed research has consistently shown the card, and income management more broadly, do not meet policy objectives. A 2020 academic study of multiple locations found compulsory income management ‘can do as much harm as good’. Survey respondents reported not having enough cash for essential items, while the research found the card ‘can also stigmatise and infantilise users’. My research examining the card in the East Kimberley shows it makes life more difficult for people subjected to it, including making it harder to manage money. People also reported the card made it more difficult to buy basic goods such as medicine and groceries. Other research from the Life Course Centre suggests compulsory income management has been linked to a reduction of birth weight and school attendance. The majority of these children are First Nations kids. … The protracted life of the Cashless Debit Card … shows the continued slow violence against thousands of Australians who deserve much better from elected officials and the structures set up to support them.”

11 November 2020

Joel Fitzgibbon continues to wage his sabotage campaign against Labor, this time by quitting the frontbench after undermining Albanese’s plan to pressure Morrison on carbon emissions. “The Labor Party has been spending too much time in recent years talking about issues like climate change,” said the MP who spends all his time ensuring Labor can do nothing but bicker about climate change. “We have a diverse range of membership… There has been a cultural shift and too much of an emphasis on our more newly arrived base, and not sufficient emphasis on our traditional base” — gee, I wonder what he is hinting at with this contrast between “newly arrived”, “diverse” membership and “our traditional base”? Of course, what it all really comes down to is this: “I have no intention of running for the leadership. I mean, I would have to be drafted.” Fortunately, it seems Fitzgibbon’s leadership fantasy is just that [$]: “About one quarter of the caucus supports Fitzgibbon, another quarter supports his views but not his methods, while the remaining half ‘hates him'”. Perhaps he would have more luck in the parties whose policies he so passionately supports [$]? “Joel Fitzgibbon was greeted with a round of applause at Aussies Cafe from Liberal and National pollies, after word spread of his resignation. Witnesses say he took a bow.”