archive: February 2020

12 February 2020

We value your input, as long as you agree with us: “Indigenous leaders have been barred from pursuing constitutional reform within the Morrison government’s new peak advisory group on a voice for First Australians, under leaked rules that restrict their ability to press for change. A briefing to some of Australia’s most respected Indigenous leaders has warned them against making recommendations on constitutional recognition, ruling it out of scope for their group. The terms of reference … also place restrictions on the wider national group of leaders who are being asked to help design the voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians. In one of the biggest restrictions, the government also prevents the national group making any recommendations on a Makarrata Commission, the forum meant to offer ‘truth-telling’ and conflict resolution with First Australians.” Ironically, this shows exactly why an Indigenous Voice to Parliament must be constitutionally enshrined — as long as it is created by parliament or the executive, it will not be free to express the real and full views of Aboriginal people. It needs to have independent authority, so that it does not depend on White Australia for permission to speak.

11 February 2020

Britain’s Industrial Strategy Council is calling for industrial policy to address the twin objectives of environmental sustainability and better employment: “The most important economic challenge confronting contemporary societies is … to ensure that new technologies being developed by the advanced sectors of the economy serve society at large. That in turn requires the active steering by governments of prevailing production and innovation systems in two specific directions: toward green technologies and toward employment-friendly technologies. … The first of these imperatives is perhaps more widely understood in view of climate change and the vast environmental externalities at stake. … The second challenge — ensuring that our economies create a sufficient number of ‘good’ jobs — may be less existential, but it is also of great importance. … [T]he shortfall in good jobs is … a gross economic malfunction that impairs the proper functioning of a society. As recent studies have shown, communities that fail to produce good jobs experience a wide range of social ills… These are all costly externalities. Governments must induce private-sector decision makers engaged in production, investment, and innovation to internalize these somehow.” Sounds like a Green New Deal.

10 February 2020

The AWU has been fined $18,000 for asking two scabs to explain why they should be allowed to remain members of the union. In 2015, AWU members at an Orica factory voted to take protected industrial action, but two members refused to participate; the union wrote to them and asked them to explain why they should not be expelled. Justice Snaden explained that of the objects of the Fair Work Act is “the protection of free association”, but in an Orwellian twist he decided AWU members had to be punished for exercising their right not to associate with scabs, because this would “punish them for their [the scabs’] decision to dissociate themselves from the broader AWU collective”. So scabs have a right to dissociate from the union, but union members will be fined for dissociating from scabs? “Fair” Work Act, indeed. (The Fair Work Ombudsman decided this case was worse than serious wage theft. Last year, it let Sunglass Hut off the hook with just a $50,000 “contrition payment” for $2.3 million in underpayments, but here it prosecuted the AWU and sought penalties of “between $77,760 and $87,480” — even Justice Snaden, a former Liberal student politician and barrister for militant employers, said this was “extreme” and “well above what is appropriate”. Priorities!)

5 February 2020

Ella Shi expresses the fears of Chinese-Australians: “The announcement that those being evacuated from Wuhan — predominantly Australian citizens of Chinese descent — would be quarantined on Christmas Island struck an uncomfortable chord for many who felt the resonances of our brutal offshore detention regime. We’re asking, would this be the treatment reserved to repatriated people had the virus broken out in the UK?” She explains how old prejudices are bubbling back to the surface, and why: “Whiteness doesn’t inherently exist but was constructed to justify Western European economic exploitation, slavery, colonisation and control. … Because if the ‘Other’ is dangerous and exotic then ‘we’ are the civilised norm. … Today, we don’t recoil at bat soup because it’s ‘barbaric’: it is barbaric because we choose to recoil at it. This isn’t about whether it’s okay or not to eat bat soup, but about recognising the response to the Coronavirus is an expression of a need to feel disgusted by the dirty barbaric Other in order to enable the Anglo-European Australian state to identify itself as civilised and pure to legitimise its sovereignty.” White Australians need to confront this truth and ask themselves what they are doing to change it.

The Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (with the support of 3CR) has published recordings of some sessions of its 2019 conference, on the theme of “Activism, Struggle and Labour History”. The range of topics is very diverse, ranging from specific industrial disputes and radical protest actions, to anti-racism organisations and global campaigns.

Shocking but not surprising: “Senior police in Western Australia were warned 12 months ago of a ‘clearly disturbing’ trend of Aboriginal drivers being overrepresented in police-initiated traffic stops. The briefing note from the mothballed evidence-based policing unit, obtained under freedom of information laws by Guardian Australia, found that Aboriginal drivers received 3.2 times more fines from being pulled over by police than non-Aboriginal drivers. But when tickets were issued by traffic cameras, Aboriginal drivers received slightly fewer penalties on average than non-Aboriginal drivers. … Aboriginal drivers in WA receive 1.75 times more penalty units over their lifetime of driving than non-Aboriginal drivers. That is about $1,260 more in fines for Aboriginal drivers, ‘almost entirely driven by police-initiated, on-the-spot infringements’. It also found Aboriginal drivers were carrying 6.2 times more unpaid fines — amounting to a debt of $2,327.” The police did nothing about it, and the evidence-based policing unit was starved of resources. This has potentially disastrous consequences for the people affected — Ms Dhu died after being abused in WA police custody, after being arrested for unpaid fines.

With Richard Di Natale retiring — good riddance — the Greens have turned to Adam Bandt for leadership. Contrary to Anthony Albanese’s strange (but telling) criticism, I think “strong rhetoric that has people who agree with you agreeing with you even stronger” will be good for the Greens, and I think Bandt’s so-called “watermelon” background means he will be better able to grapple with the issues facing working people — including the industrial issues facing communities on the front line of the climate transition we need to make. Bandt’s priorities of free education and a manufacturing renaissance show he has plans to address this vulnerability. (My only concern is that the concept of a Green New Deal is being turned into a generic Greens election slogan — for example, while expanding Medicare to cover dental services is unequivocally good policy, I can’t see why it is a pillar of Bandt’s version of a Green New Deal.)