archive: May 2021

26 May 2021

Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker on the gulag gravy train: “A multinational company that secured a $121 million contract to support asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea boosted its profits by billing the Australian government $75 an hour for local workers it paid just $8. … Company records show that Spanish-owned Applus Wokman, which in 2017 won the contract to provide case management and resettlement support for hundreds of asylum seekers, paid local workers as little as 10 per cent of the wages it claimed from the Department of Home Affairs. … In February last year, then auditor at Applus Wokman, Samuel Kelly, raised the gulf in wages claimed compared with wages paid with Home Affairs on behalf of about 30 local staff. … Mr Kelly told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that the company sacked him and 10 other workers after the payment issue was raised with the Australian government in February 2020.” And in a separate scandal: “Canstruct has been paid $1.4 billion over five years to run Nauru’s offshore processing scheme and last financial year pocketed a net profit up to $100 million, according to corporate filings. While media reporting has linked Canstruct to two political donations, federal and Queensland records reviewed by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald reveal 11 political contributions to the Liberal National Party in Queensland made by company executives or closely linked corporate entities. The donations total at least $47,500 and were made between October 2017 and July 2020. Queensland’s most senior federal government member is Peter Dutton, who was until recently home affairs minister. There is no suggestion the donations were made by Canstruct to influence contractual dealings with the federal government.”

25 May 2021

From time to time, the Victorian Liberals make a good point: “The Victorian government has spent millions on addressing ­issues with Indigenous inter­actions with the justice system through the state’s Aboriginal Justice Agreements but there has been no public evaluation since 2012. The 2012 evaluation called for greater accountability of the outcomes listed in the agreement and an improvement in data. … A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokesman said the AJA was the longest running agreement of its kind in Australia and had self-determination at its core. ‘We are working with Aboriginal communities to listen, support and deliver real and lasting change — building a stronger, fairer and more accessible justice system,’ he said. ‘We’re breaking cycles of offending and connecting people with culture, country and community through a range of initiatives led by Aboriginal Victorians.’ Opposition legal affairs spokesman Edward O’Donohue pointed to imprisonment data from the report on government services showing a 55.6 per cent increase in the rate of Indigenous adults from 2013-14 (the last full year under the Coalition government) to 2019-20. In comparison, the non-­Indigenous rate increased by 16.9 per cent.” Not great. Maybe it would be worse without the AJAs, but we can’t know without an evaluation — simply asserting that you are “breaking cycles of offending” while incarcerating more and more people is not good enough.

21 May 2021

Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer: “What remarkable sophistry governments engage in when it comes to discussing wages. And not just Coalition governments. … The Victorian government and its treasurer Tim Pallas would have us believe that wages growth floats free of any connection with what that state’s biggest employer does. Pallas’ budget papers note that ‘Victorian wages growth had been subdued in recent years’… Not a word about Pallas’ own wages policy for his public service — which the budget papers elsewhere describe as a ‘rebalancing’. … That ‘rebalancing’ is a cut in the Victorian public service pay rise cap to 2% from 3%, along with a cut in the guaranteed annual base increase for public servants from 2% to 1.5%, below inflation, and the same level as that of the NSW government. … The beloved-by-progressives Andrews government is thus further tightening its restrictions on wages growth which, as the state’s biggest employer, will inevitably filter through to the wider Victorian employment market.”

19 May 2021

The Age: “Last year, *Rachel was jailed for six days for stealing an ice-cream — a $3.50 Bubble O’Bill from a St Kilda convenience store. It was the kind of minor transgression that might once have prompted a stern reprimand from a police officer or a magistrate, but this was 2020 and Rachel was remanded because she’d committed an indictable offence while already on bail. So under laws that Premier Daniel Andrews had spruiked as the toughest in the country, she spent two days in the custody centre and four in Dame Phyllis Frost prison in Ravenhall. Victoria’s bail laws were tightened … These changes have put a spiralling number of unsentenced remandees on low-level offences — people like Rachel — in jail at a rate that is fuelling concern about human rights, social impacts and the burgeoning cost to taxpayers. In April, a record 44 per cent of the state’s 7227 prisoners were on remand, many awaiting court dates on criminal charges where bail would likely have been granted before the crackdown. Government documents indicating Indigenous women are now jailed at 20 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. Women’s and other legal groups are now demanding urgent reform. They say the government’s tough-on-crime policies are both costly to taxpayers and damaging to some of the most disadvantaged people in the state.” How bad is it? “Confidential high-level government documents from late 2019 and early 2020 seen by The Age forecast that under existing policies the prison system would be over-capacity by 2024 despite record spending on prison infrastructure in the 2019 budget.” But… “Senior government figures also downplayed the likelihood of bail reform before the November 2022 election.”

Jeff Sparrow: “In colonial Australia, the white settlers spoke constantly about defending themselves against terror. … In Western Australia, Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling faced resistance from the Pinjarup people. After one violent encounter, Stirling wrote back to London warning ‘that their success in this species of warfare … might tempt other tribes, to pursue the same course, and eventually combine together for the extermination of the whites’. On that basis, he urged the authorities to end the conflict with ‘such acts of decisive severity as will appal them as a people.’ Again and again, we find the colonists describing themselves as victims and presenting their massacres as defensive measures. Today, no-one believes them. We don’t nod along when Lachlan Macquarie talks about the necessity of striking ‘terror among the surviving tribes [to] deter them from the further commission of … outrages and barbarities’. We don’t accept a narrative of conflict beginning when an Indigenous person mysteriously throws a spear. We don’t agree that European punitive expeditions brought ‘peace’ by subduing local tribes. Nor, for that matter, do we declare the hostilities too complex to understand, a mysterious ‘cycle of violence’ only attributable to immutable, ancient hatreds. We recognise at once what was happening as a colonial settlement displaced traditional owners, with the profound and systemic brutality of dispossession forcing Indigenous people to either fight back or die. That’s why Australians, in particular, have no excuses for not extending their solidarity to Palestinians.”

Subject to appeal, of course, but this is a big decision: “Deliveroo is facing the prospect of a wave of backpay claims after a tribunal ruled one of its contracted couriers was actually an employee with a right to an industry minimum wage. The ruling poses a major challenge to the delivery giant’s reliance on classifying workers as ‘independent contractors’ who have much more flexible hours but lack the protections employees have and are therefore generally cheaper to employ. … Commissioner Cambridge said all of the facets of Mr Franco’s arrangement with Deliveroo, taken together ‘like the colours from the artist’s palette, emerged to form a complete picture’ and showed he was an employee. Among the reasons were that Mr Franco did not build up his own business or brand as a rider, booked his shifts through a company system, did not have a distinct trade or profession, dressed in clothing with Deliveroo branding, and did not bring his own significant assets to the business.” The upshot? “Workers are typically entitled to six years’ back pay for lost wages, meaning the company could be up for a huge bill if Mr Franco’s case sets a precedent for more than 20,000 people who have ridden for Deliveroo in that time.”

13 May 2021

Alison Pennington: “After last year’s widely critiqued ‘hard hats’ budget, with its narrow focus on announcing big construction projects (many of which still haven’t got past the photo-op stage), this year the Coalition announced $3.4 billion in funding over four years to purportedly address women’s economic security, safety and health. Keep in mind, that represents just 3.6 per cent of the total $96 billion in new tax and spending measures announced in this budget. The extra spending on women consists of small amounts of money divided across lots of different things. Like a low-quality showbag, these measures are short-term sweeteners. Perishable after the forward estimates. … Much-needed funding for domestic violence services will increase by $250 million per year — but is then cut by 99 per cent, down to just $2.3 million, in 2025-26. Apparently, the violence crisis will be over by then. In total, this is small, short-term spending for women, compared with permanent and much more expensive changes announced for high-income earners and men. … The wages crisis hits women hardest, and a budget that ignores wages could never be called a ‘women’s budget’. Four million women or 65 per cent of all women’s jobs are in low- and middle-income services industries like hospitality, retail, and health care and social services. … What good is money spent on getting women into the workforce, if they’re not earning enough on the job?“

12 May 2021

Gareth Hutchens: “The last time we saw annual wage growth of 2.75 per cent was in 2014. But if the budget forecasts turn out to be correct, and we see wage growth of 2.75 per cent by July 2025, it means Australian wages will have been weaker than 2014 levels for over 10 years. A full decade. And if you look at that graph again, wage growth of 2.75 per cent is still far below where it was in the mining boom years. Why do Treasury officials think it’s going to take so long for wages growth to pick up from here, given the government’s well-publicised plan to drive the unemployment rate down to 1970 levels? The budget papers hold a few clues: ‘The near-term outlook is consistent with low-wage increases in new federal enterprise bargaining agreements [more info] and state public-sector wage caps that are expected to moderate the outlook for wage growth over the forecast period.’ That is, wage growth is still going to be deliberately held back in coming years (in some areas). According to the budget papers, inflation is forecast to grow by 1.75 per cent in 2021-22, while wages grow by 1.5 per cent. You know what that means? Treasury officials think ‘real’ wages will actually go backwards in the next 12 months (which means the purchasing power of your wages will decline). And for the next two years after that, inflation will track at the same rate as wages, so real wages will be treading water. So that’s three more years, at least, of anaemic wages.”

Greg Jericho reckons Morrison is planning for years of frozen wages: “The wild fluctuations of the pandemic make it is difficult to discern what is going on when looking at the growth figures. For example, the budget predicts our economy to grow by 4.5% in 2021-22 — a stonkingly good result. But given that it comes off the back of two years where our GDP shrank and then grew by just 1.25%, it’s not a real shock… [T]he tale of this budget for me is mostly in the following three years — for there we see a return to the weak growth of the past decade.Yes, some of it has to do with lower population growth, but even by 2022-23 the government estimates our population will grow by 0.8% — marginally down on the 1.2% growth of 2019-20 but massively above the 0.1% growth this year. Yet our economy is expected to still grow below the long-term trend of 2.75% to 3%. Worse, the news remains ever-dismal for workers. There are some good signs — the government is predicting unemployment will go below 5%. By June 2024 it expects 4.5% unemployment — the lowest since the global financial crisis. And yet wages growth is expected to be dire. … Over the past five years an unemployment rate of 5% — as occurred in December 2018 — would see wages growing by about 2.3% each year. Now, however, the budget predicts an unemployment rate of 5% in June next year, but wages growth of just 1.5% … [T]he budget only forecasts wages growth increasing to 2.5% at best. That is well below the level the governor of the reserve bank, Philip Lowe, suggests is needed to get inflation consistently within the RBA’s 2% to 3% target band. Despite this the government predicts inflation will grow by 2.5% in both 2024 and 2025 — effectively meaning wages growth will be negligible for years to come”.

Ross Gittins: “Politically, this budget had to offer a convincing response to the report of the royal commission on aged care. Reports have suggested fixing the broken system would take extra spending of about $10 billion a year. Had he accepted that challenge, Morrison would have put himself head and shoulders above his Liberal and Labor predecessors. He settled for spending an extra $3.5 billion a year. Major patch-up at best. The scandals will continue. Politically, Morrison had to make this a women-friendly budget, to prove he valued women’s contribution to the economy and remove impediments to their economic security. Making childcare free — as it was, briefly, during the lockdown — would have been a big help to young families, as well as greatly increasing employment. It would have backed his fine words with deeds. That would have cost about $2 billion a year. Morrison settled for $600 million a year, limiting the new assistance to about one childcare-using family in four by excluding the great majority, who have only one child in care. … [T]he purpose of the further stimulus in this year’s budget is to keep the kick-starting going until the private sector’s engine gets going. Much of this depends on a return to decent pay rises – which is, as yet, beyond the budget’s ‘forecast horizon’. We haven’t had a decent pay rise since before the election of the Coalition government.”