archive: October 2020

14 October 2020

This time last year, NSW Police arrested a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors for blocking traffic, and subjected them to draconian bail conditions banning them from the Sydney CBD or attending any protests anywhere. Now the charges have finally made it to court — where they were summarily thrown out. The magistrate ruled [$] that because the protestors had a valid permit allowing them to be on the road, the police had no power to move them on, and the case against them was therefore doomed to fail: “'(The protesters were) already allowed to be on the road, (which is) why the road was closed,’ she said. ‘(I’m) not satisfied there could be a lawful conviction.'” Scott Ludlam — one of those arrested — said: “Nobody undertakes these kinds of actions lightly. But in the year since we were arrested, the evidence has grown even stronger that the Australian Government is captive to the resources sector. We spent January in the middle of catastrophic bushfires, which should have been the final trigger for the rapid phase out of fossil fuels. Instead, Morrison has handed the keys to our economy to the gas sector. My biggest fear is not that we’ll be judged by the future as being too radical, or too disruptive. It’s that we’ll be seen as too timid.”

Sherry Huang: “In 2010, I came to Australia from Taiwan as a working holidaymaker and began work in an apple-packing shed in Shepparton. The work itself was not too bad, but I was paid about $13 per hour — below the legal minimum. From that $13 per hour, the labour hire provider took 13 per cent in fees and charges that I later discovered were unlawful. These charges were ostensibly to cover things such as accommodation; we slept six to a small room in bunks, or two in a shipping container. … The three sexual assaults I personally took to the police on behalf of friends have still never been acted upon; the police told us there was no point as the victims would have left the country by the time the case was tried. Workers are still denied medical care when they are injured because non-European workers don’t enjoy reciprocal rights under Medicare, and labour hire companies typically fail to register our names for WorkCover. A man I know lost three fingers in a meat grinder — would you trade six months on the minimum wage for three of your fingers? … Australia’s fruit and vegetable harvesting industry is a house of cards, stacked upon the willing blindness of Australians to human suffering, poverty, and abuse, imposed by their fellow countrymen. … The pandemic has laid bare the intention of the government’s labour market strategy. … Rather than addressing conditions in the industry, politicians blame jobless Australians for valuing their lives and labour too highly.”

7 October 2020

Bernard Keane: “[T]he industry has urged the government to force people into horticulture by cutting back JobSeeker payments, which are said to deter people from going bush to travel the ‘harvest trail’. It also wants borders reopened for temporary migrants and incentives for backpackers to stay longer. One Liberal MP… reportedly wants to conscript young people for fruitpicking. Realising the bad optics of this, he says he’d settle for cutting off JobSeeker payments to young people who refuse to pick fruit. … The government’s response is to announce it will use taxpayer money to ‘incentivise’ young people to ‘have a crack’ at horticulture. … As for union militancy, strikes are almost non-existent in Australia. This year, according to ABS data, days lost per 1000 workers to strike action fell to 0.3 days in the March quarter and 0.1 in the June quarter. Twenty years ago the comparable figures were 19.4 and 22.6. … One look at wages growth since the Coalition was elected will tell you we need a lot more, not less, union militancy. We need more strikes, not fewer. We need more workers engaging in industrial disputes, and forcing concessions from employers. Nothing else, it seems, is going to lift wages growth, and therefore strengthen demand. Indeed, if the horticulture sector had a stronger union presence… it’s likely there’d be a lot less wage theft, exploitation and routine sexual harassment. It might even be an industry that didn’t need the government to bribe or coerce people to work in it.”

Jan Carter: “Contracting out became central to the playbook of bureaucracies after the new public management (NPM) theories in the 1990s gripped Australian public services. NPM was the handmaiden of the neoliberal economics that marked the advent of Jeff Kennett’s and John Howard’s leaderships. The idea was that the private sector — profit-making firms and NGOs — could run things more efficiently and cheaply than governments. It was also an indirect way of breaking up those pesky, unionised workforces… Contracting out went hand in hand with … the elevation of the content-free manager. NPM disliked specialist managers, those who were either trained in their field or very experienced, or both. … Over the years the trend has been that specialist managers have been replaced with generalists, often referred to content-free managers. … [K]nowing very little, or sometimes nothing, could be an advantage… [C]ontent-free managers were thought freer to carry through the policies of government more efficiently and effectively. Many specialist managers and potential managers were sidelined, as we have seen in the Victorian case of the DHHS’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who, despite his serious legislative powers and central role in keeping Victorians safe, was refused a senior management role in his own department and effectively relegated to middle management. … [T]he cast-iron, twin assumptions that contracting out and content-free management are always the best, need close examination.”

6 October 2020

Kathy Jackson has been convicted by a jury of embezzling $35,000 of Health Services Union funds, and pleaded guilty to stealing almost $68,000 more. This is in addition to being ordered to repay $1.4 million of misappropriated funds after being sued by the union in 2015. Tony Abbott famously described her as a “brave, decent woman” and “heroic” when she tried to hide her own corruption by pointing the finger at her factional enemies. The anti-union royal commission overseen by sex pest Dyson Heydon gleefully called Jackson as its star witness, before ignoring the emerging evidence of her criminality: “What do you do when your star witness in a politically motivated inquiry turns out to be an alleged thief…? Just ignore it. The credibility of the Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption should suffer a serious blow from its glaring omissions on the allegedly corrupt behaviour of Kathy Jackson and how it has treated her throughout these hearings. … Jackson was always the commission’s star witness and treated far too gently… How seriously can the rest of the recommendations of this interim report be treated when this commission is prepared to ignore such serious allegations against a friendly witness?” Her guilty verdicts are further proof that TURC was a politically motivated circus.

(Separately, Jackson is awaiting a decision [$] on the will of barrister David Rofe, who “wrote about 40 wills, most after 2010 as he slowly succumbed to advanced dementia”; Jackson “admitted in a signed affidavit to personally typing Rofe’s final will” which awarded her as much as $3 million from his estate. She reportedly met him [$] “almost two years after he was diagnosed with dementia”. The NSW Supreme Court will decide which, if any, of his many wills was valid.)