archive: March 2019

30 March 2019

The Australian has helpfully identified a list of Australia’s 250 biggest hoarders, who are amassing unfathomable wealth that could be put to far better use: “The List features 96 billionaires… with an average wealth of $1.27 billion for the 250 people featured. Their combined wealth is almost $320bn.” Next time the government claims we can’t afford to invest in health, education or infrastructure, point them to The List — we know exactly who to tax, and exactly where they are stockpiling their cash. There is no reason anyone should have this kind of personal wealth. There is no meritocracy and they certainly didn’t earn it. Luke Savage nails it: “No one earns a billion dollars, but hierarchical economic structures and a skewed political system ensure some nevertheless acquire it because of the property they own. A billion dollars … is not a reward proportionate to someone’s social contribution. It’s institutionalized theft, plain and simple.”

28 March 2019

After an illegal attempt to bypass the union was this week blocked by the Fair Work Commission, Chemist Warehouse capitulated to the demands of its striking workers. In addition to significant wage rises, outsourced workers will be paid agreement rates, casual employees will have the right to be made permanent after six months — and those casuals who participated in the strike will be given permanent jobs immediately. Professor Anthony Forsyth, who conducted the Victorian Government’s inquiry into the labour hire industry, summarises the significance of the Chemist Warehouse victory: “the NUW has made huge inroads into a major company’s extensive use of labour hire. In many sectors of the economy, including warehousing, logistics and manufacturing, the original intention of labour hire — to provide a supplement to the core workforce in response to business needs — has been usurped by the engagement of large numbers of long-term, labour hire casuals. The Chemist Warehouse agreement is an important clawing back of that misuse of labour hire. The NUW has shown … that the more traditional industrial tools (strikes, protests) are still effective — especially when combined with organising and communication through social media.” Strikes work!

The final episode of breakfast TV satire Get Krack!n aired on ABC last night, with regular hosts Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan joined/replaced by Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui. This review is spot on: “The tag ‘must-watch TV’ gets bandied about for any second-rate reality TV episode, but on Wednesday night ABC show Get Krack!n gave Australian TV its most searing half-hour in living memory.” It is a confronting, rage-fuelled spectacle — the punch in the face that White Australia needs. Watch it on iView as soon as you can.

27 March 2019

John Howard is giving a speech today in which he claims Australia’s economic inequality is a myth. In a publicity interview [$] with “journalist” Simon Benson [$], Howard said: “These figures don’t suggest inequality­ is growing at all. Australia’s wealth per adult is the second-highest in the world.” Great — but averages do not measure inequality. To do that, you need to compare the distribution of wealth on a spectrum. ACOSS reports: “The average wealth of the highest 20% rose by 53% (to $2.9 million) from 2003 to 2016, while that of the middle 20% rose by 32% and for lowest 20% declined by 9%. The wealth of the wealthiest 5% grew even more rapidly, by 60% over this 12-year period.” These facts are important — a recent study shows that “providing respondents with information about inequality and mobility in Australia makes them more likely to desire urgent action from the government to reduce inequality, more supportive of providing free and high-quality health and education, and less supportive of cutting corporate taxes. This effect was largely due to Coalition voters becoming more progressive in their views.” No wonder Howard is being deployed to muddy the waters in advance of the election.

Who wrote this about Gallipoli: “It is said that one huge Queenslander swung his rifle by the muzzle, and, after braining one Turk, caught another and flung him over his shoulder. I do not know if this story is true, but when we landed some hours later, there was said to have been a dead Turk on the beach with his head smashed in.” Was it a biased academic historian using unverified rumour to push a left-wing agenda? No, it was Australia’s official war correspondent, Charles Bean, in his first report from the landing. The latest salvo in the History Wars, a bizarre whinge on the front page of The Australian [$] complaining that history students are taught soldiers kill people, is (to borrow a phrase) political correctness gone mad.

26 March 2019

It seems it is still too early to draw any clear conclusions from the disappointing result of the NSW election, although the early conversation between Ben Raue and Osmond Chiu is worth listening to. From a Victorian vantage point, the only real standout moments were when Michael Daley quite rightly told Alan Jones to get stuffed, and then when Michael Daley quite wrongly scapegoated migrants for cost of living pressures in Sydney: “Our young children will flee and who are they being replaced with? They are being replaced by young people from typically Asia with PhDs.” Liam Hogan argues this is a reminder that Labor has a long history of racism, and the party needs to be more careful in its treatment of various issues to avoid slipping into racist tropes. Responding to Daley’s invocation of “our children”, Hogan says: “We might start by being clear about who ‘we’ is. ‘We’ cannot be a proxy, even by accident, for white people, and neither can it be that subtle proxy for white people, ‘existing residents’. Let’s be clear that ‘our’ children includes children who have yet to be born, and are yet to migrate. ‘Our’ jobs includes jobs that are yet to exist, in industries that we can’t imagine yet. Our society and our city is going to change. What’s necessary is a society where the benefits of those changes are shared, and are seen to be shared.”

24 March 2019

Unions are calling for a boycott of Chemist Warehouse retail outlets, to support striking warehouse workers who are facing intimidation: “Chemist Warehouse stores appear to be running low on goods as allegations emerged that striking workers have been targeted with violence and threats at the picket line. … [O]ne protester said her car tyres were slashed, while others were hospitalised after being struck by trucks, the National Union of Workers alleged. Police were called over one threat.” The striking workers are demanding pay in line with industry standards, job security, and an end to sexual harassment. You can support the campaign by boycotting Chemist Warehouse, signing the petition, and donating to the strike fund.

21 March 2019

Osmond Chiu calls for Harmony Day to be dropped — it was introduced by the Howard Government to replace Australia’s observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: “Undoubtedly people feel an attachment to Harmony Day as a celebration of cultural diversity that schools, workplaces and community groups can participate in. It is a day that people have a positive association and feel very comfortable with. But it does us no favours by avoiding any hard conversations about racism. As educator Robin DiAngelo has pointed out, niceness is not anti-racism. A parallel would be celebrating International Women’s Day without mentioning ongoing under-representation, sexism or the gender pay gap.” Compare the themes for 2019: Harmony Day’s is the insipid “everyone belongs”, while IDERD’s is “mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies”. We need to rise to that challenge.

20 March 2019

PP McGuinness Jr reckons the minimum wage does not exist in Australia [$] “because workers regularly accept [sic] less than the mandated minimum wage”. She cites 7-Eleven workers who were forced to accept half the legal minimum because they “needed to earn money somehow and feared reporting the below-award wage conditions would lead to their visas being cancelled”. She admits this “sound[s] uncomfortably like coercion” — yes, and if it quacks like a duck… Of course, McGuinness is the director of a PR firm that writes opinion articles to push the agenda of its business clients, and this PR column is designed to shift responsibility onto the victims of exploitation. Implicit in her argument is the idea that bosses should be free to pick and choose which workplace laws they obey — and this is certainly a view shared by the great many wage thieves who do not fear being caught by the underresourced and toothless Fair Work Ombudsman. But that need not be the case: we can make the minimum wage a reality by making wage thieves scared again.

19 March 2019

We are seeing calls for increased moderation of vile content on social media — while this will not solve deeply embedded racism and misogyny, it is nevertheless reasonable to expect that companies will take responsibility for the impact they have on society. But spare a thought for the outsourced and exploited workers who are forced to wade through this filth. Facebook’s content moderators “make just [US]$28,800 per year and are micromanaged down to the minute; for instance, they are allotted nine minutes per day of ‘wellness time,’ but they are forbidden to go to the restroom during this time. Moreover, Muslim employees have been forbidden from using their wellness time to pray. Many content moderators have developed chronic PTSD or secondary traumatic stress from watching graphically violent videos for weeks, and months, or years on end.” That’s well below the Australian minimum wage, to do very difficult, essential work. These are tech sweatshops and the social media oligarchy should be held responsible for them, too.