archive: April 2019

30 April 2019

Labor has announced two major childcare policies as the election campaign steps up a gear. First, a significant increase in fee subsidies, especially for low-income households; in response, Morrison’s Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, shrieked, “This is a fast track to a socialist, if not communist, economy.” Second, funding a 20 per cent increase in childcare wages over the next four years. A partner at Deloitte Access Economics said this was unrealistic “unless we think that perhaps we can have robots looking after our children… literally, that’s the next sort of leap that we’re talking about.” This shows the disconnect between what right-wing economists think childcare workers do (changing nappies, raking sandpits) and what they actually do (all of that and also teaching children during a vital developmental stage). Bill Shorten gets it; in his speech he used the better term, “early-years educators”: “Teaching our children in the early years is one of the most important jobs there is. And yet in our country it is one of the lowest paid jobs in the country. And — like it or not — that sends a message. It speaks volumes for what we value as a nation, for the priority that we place on the betterment of our children and the respect we display to the people who teach them. … A 20 per cent pay rise for the early educators because we value early education.”

28 April 2019

Adele Ferguson’s exposé of bubble tea chain Chatime — which could owe $10 million in unpaid wages — is once again damning of the Fair Work Ombudsman. In 2018, it identified a $350,000 wage rip-off at Bakery Venture, but only issued a caution. Some of the same directors are involved at Chatime, including one who FWO says “was involved in the contraventions of [Chatime] during the assessment period” and was legally “knowingly concerned” in undercutting the award. But when a five month audit at a subset of Chatime stores found over $175,000 of underpayments, “The ombudsman decided not to make this investigation public or issue any penalties.” Meanwhile, leaked emails from Chatime’s lawyers show they assessed the underpayment of one worker as “at least $32,000 (ex super)” but suggested that her visa status should be exploited to make a lowball offer of $20,000. (Bear in mind that it is illegal to contract out of the statutory or award minimum wage and superannuation.) The law firm that gave this advice is “a subsidiary of the state’s peak business organisation, NSW Business Chamber.” The culture of exploitation in Australia’s business community is deep, and it is supported by a web of business consultants and advisors — and, sadly, the so-called Fair Work Ombudsman, too.

27 April 2019

Bill Shorten seems to be positioning himself to reject key union demands if he wins the election. He told Nine newspapers: “We know that the bargaining system’s not working as it should. But I’m not convinced that we need to have, you know, everyone going into industry bargaining.” If he is saying that it should be up to the parties to determine whether they use industry or enterprise bargaining, fine. But if he is hinting that only a select few industries would be allowed to bargain at a higher level, then he is planning to breach our ILO treaty obligations: “According to the principle of free and voluntary collective bargaining embodied in Article 4 of Convention No. 98, the determination of the bargaining level is essentially a matter to be left to the discretion of the parties and, consequently, the level of negotiation should not be imposed by law… Legislation should not constitute an obstacle to collective bargaining at the industry level.” Adam Bandt has promised the Greens will use their influence to support industry bargaining, including by amending any back-pedalling bill proposed by Shorten: “Labour laws shouldn’t hold back one group of workers at the expense of others… Industry-wide bargaining should be available to everybody.”

WA’s Environmental Protection Authority rejected a proposal for a new uranium mine because it would put at risk the “viability as a species” of three species only found in the proposed mine area — in other words, they face extinction. But the WA Liberal environment minister approved it anyway, just 16 days before the state election was called. In applying for federal approval, the miner, Cameco, told the government a proposed condition that it must “Demonstrate that no species would be made extinct by the implementation of the Project, prior to the commencement of the Project” was “not realistic and unlikely to be achieved — ever!” The Liberal environment minister approved it anyway, just one day before the federal election was called. She refuses to be interviewed about it. RMIT’s Gavin Mudd wonders, “ethically, what right do we have to wipe out a species? They have evolved and survived just like us. At the end of the day, there are much safer, cheaper, more ethical and cleaner ways to generate electricity to boil a kettle.” (Meanwhile, Scott Morrison is vacillating [$] on nuclear power plants in Australia.)

24 April 2019

During the Hayne Royal Commission, financial regulators were criticised for their reluctance to prosecute lawbreakers. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s latest media release shows the same gutless attitude to worker exploitation. Late last year, labour hire company Agri Labour Australia settled with five workers for $150,000 over wage underpayment claims — avoiding millions of dollars of possible penalties. It is currently in pre-trial mediation in relation to another, bigger claim over allegations of similar rip-offs. At the same time, the FWO launched a limited investigation into one of the farms supplied by Agri Labour — and found over $50,000 in wage violations. But the FWO did not prosecute, instead allowing the company to make a $15,000 “contrition payment” through an Enforceable Undertaking — a legal term for a promise not to do it again. In his report, Commissioner Hayne scolded ASIC for using this approach against banks: “Enforceable undertakings might require a ‘community benefit payment’, but the amount was far less than the penalty that ASIC could properly have asked a court to impose. … When contravening conduct comes to its attention, the regulator must always ask whether it can make a case that there has been a breach and, if it can, then ask why it would not be in the public interest to bring proceedings to penalise the breach.” The Fair Work Ombudsman should take heed and toughen up.

22 April 2019

On the anniversary of the Easter Rising, The Tribune has a good profile of “Ireland’s greatest socialist”, James Connolly. I was struck by this, from an article he wrote in 1900: “Ireland without her people is nothing to me, and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland,’ and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland, aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women, without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how much he loves that combination of chemical elements which he is pleased to call ‘Ireland.’” This quotation refers to Ireland, but applies with equal force to all hollow expressions of patriotism, and it is something to keep in mind as we approach Anzac Day in the middle of a federal election campaign.

20 April 2019

Labor has complained to Facebook about a “fake news” campaign, demanding the posts be removed. The posts are obvious fakes, because they accuse Labor of having the guts to introduce a good policy — an inheritance tax. As Danielle Wood explained late last year, “Taxing inheritances makes a lot of sense from both an economic and fairness perspective. Taxes on inheritances drag on the economy less than other taxes, such as income taxes. Inheritances taxes also promote what economists call ‘horizontal equity’ — ensuring that people in similar economic circumstances pay similar amounts of tax. People without well-off parents are entitled to feel miffed that they are taxed on their income from working while others can derive a similar sum from an inheritance and pay no tax whatsoever. Australia is an outlier among developed countries in not taxing inheritances.” Even the rate referred to in the fake ads is far from radical; it would match the rate of inheritance tax in the UK, which remains at the same 40% as when it was introduced by the Communist prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The sooner Labor stops sucking up to the Anthony Pratts of the world, the better off we would all be.

19 April 2019

The so-called Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut public holiday pay rates for some of Australia’s lowest paid workers will bite particularly hard over the next fortnight. According to analysis by the Centre for Future Work: “The unique concentration of public holidays within the 10 days starting on Good Friday (amounting to a total of 6 holidays or Sundays in most states) dramatically highlights the scale of those losses. Over that 10-day period, we estimate that wages will be $80 million lower than if penalty rates had been maintained.” And because the cuts are still being phased in, by 2020 the loss will be $107 million over ten days. At the same time, the economic benefits bosses promised have not materialised: “hiring in sectors where penalty rates were not reduced has been five times faster since July 2017 than in the retail and hospitality sectors (where penalty rates were cut)”. Elsewhere, we learn: “New research from the University of Wollongong measured Sunday shifts worked before and after the penalty rate cuts in July last year; … the rate has now slumped to below 2017 figures.” Lower wages and less work.

Dominic Kelly’s Political Troglodytes and Economic Lunatics is an excellent history of the web of single-issue interest groups that drove a significant rightward shift in Australian politics, especially in the years of the Howard Government. They were: “On industrial relations, the HR Nicholls Society wanted to topple the arbitration system, abolish the minimum wage and strip trade unions of their legal privileges. On constitutional issues, the Samuel Griffith Society wanted a renewed federalism, and fought passionately against the Mabo judgment and the proposed Australian republic. On Indigenous affairs, the Bennelong Society opposed land rights and reconciliation, and argued for a return to the assimilation policies of the mid-20th century. On climate change, the Lavoisier Group joined with denialists around the world in discouraging governments from taking meaningful action.” Kelly meticulously and neutrally describes their views, methods, and influence. Their shared model — a tight ideological focus, clubbish culture, emphasis on shifting elite opinion, and use of dinner speeches and opinion columns to furnish conservative MPs with talking points — was remarkably successful across a number of policy areas, and understanding the current state of politics is not possible without appreciating how these groups operated.

17 April 2019

Australia’s track record of abusing Timor-Leste [$] in order to steal oil revenues from the Timorese people is long and ongoing — endorsing Indonesia’s brutal occupationbullying the fledgling Timorese government after independence, spying on the Timorese government on behalf of an oil company[$], prosecuting a whistleblower and their lawyer in a secret trial, and now, failing to ratify a treaty more than a year after signing it: “The delay has meant that Australia continues to draw profits from the Bayu-Undan fields, which had previously been split 90-10 but was confirmed by the treaty to have belonged entirely to Timor-Leste. Estimates vary between $350,000 and $2.9m per week that Australia is drawing by continuing to claim 10% of the Bayu-Undan revenue.” The Timorese economy is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues, and its government is desperately trying to diversify before the money runs out. By continuing to steal from our neighbours, we are dooming them to future poverty. Not only should Australia immediately return the post-treaty Bayu-Undan oil revenues to Timor-Leste, we should also make reparation for the oil we stole by collaborating with the Indonesians for decades.