archive: September 2021

24 September 2021

Australian bosses are world-leaders in employee surveillance [$]: ”About 61 per cent of senior executives in large corporations in Australia told a Herbert Smith Freehills’ global survey released on Wednesday they expect to see a rise in employee activism over the next three to five years, with employee surveillance (40 per cent) topping pay (36 per cent) and vaccine status (15 per cent) as the key trigger. According to the report, more than 90 per cent of Australian employers are using software to monitor their employee location when they work remotely, far more than any other region. North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United Kingdom all ranked less than 80 per cent. … The dominance of surveillance technology comes as firms reported a surge in sales of monitoring software last year, including webcam access, random screenshot monitoring and keystroke monitoring. … Large corporates are already taking active steps to mitigate the risk of employee activism, with 97 per cent of Australian employers saying they restricted or controlled employee actions.“

23 September 2021

Nicholas Stuart: “What could possibly explain last week’s sudden and abrupt decision to throw the project overboard and substitute a vague promise of embarking on a new build in two year’s time? Defence analysts increasingly believe the only way to make sense of the move is to see it as the first step in the creation of an independent nuclear deterrent.” In other words, Australia is preparing to break its anti-nuclear proliferation commitment and arm up with nukes to threaten our neighbours. “The key is in the vessels themselves. … Perhaps most crucially, they can also be fitted with nuclear warheads. … [O]wning this sort of submarine is a game changer. It opens up options Scott Morrison (and, perhaps more particularly, defence minister Peter Dutton) are well aware of, and are probably seeking. Perhaps this is the vital background to why the French project was abandoned. … [T]he shift can’t be explained away as simply an acknowledgement that Australia’s submarines need to be nuclear-powered. If this was the only requirement, talks would have already begun with the French, who produce highly sophisticated nuclear vessels. Indeed, we’ve been working hard to convert one of their nuclear subs to a conventionally powered boat, so swapping in a new engine block would have been simple. The only way to make any sense of the move is to understand it as, quite possibly, the most significant strategic decision Canberra has made since the second world war, wedding the country decisively to a US/UK alliance and catapulting Australia into the ranks of potentially nuclear-armed states.”

22 September 2021

Guy Rundle on the Left’s weak response to nuclear subs [$]: “Aside from Keating, there has been pretty much crickets, apart from somewhat less powerful voices, such as myself, Vanguard — the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) paper — and Green Left. Strange times, strange times… [W]hat has been notable is the lack of concerted, institutional opposition to our new, willed dependency in a white man’s Burton. Labor fell into line dutifully, the ACTU said not a word, the left unions did not break away and speak away, the Greens emphasised the nuclear danger angle, there was no word from the churches against a willed drift to war. … Through the 1950s and ’60s we had a vigorous peace movement — which, being run largely by the Communist Party, had its biases — and then we had one of the world’s largest anti-war and anti-nuclear movements from the ’70s through to the 2000s. The active support of unions and churches was essential to such a movement, as was the presence of a more vocal and independent Labor left — and a Labor leadership that retained aspects of Labor’s dissidence. That this coalition is now absent is a disaster for the country. I don’t believe for a second that it is indicative of a wider absence in society; I think many Australians have a deep disquiet about the direction being taken, the giddy, gung-ho commitment to a race-grounded imperial alliance. But the shifts in Australian society have been so great that there has been a split between elite power group leaderships, and an atomised population which is often to the left of the people leading them.”

(This overlooks the MUA and ETU’s well articulated opposition to the AUKUS announcement, and has nothing to say about the impact of lockdowns — both the rules and the fatigue — on the ability of a community groups to organise a display of opposition, but the broader point is well made.)

Luke Hilakari, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council: “Whether it’s to protect yourself, your workmates, or your customers or clients, Victorian workers are pretty familiar with the concept of donning personal protective equipment for safety. … And, as at the time of writing, more than two million Victorian workers have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Some workers, and some unionists, have their hesitations about getting the COVID vaccine. I get that. But COVID-19 is a serious health risk to Victorian workplaces, and we have a responsibility as a movement to encourage our members to do whatever keeps you and your co-workers safe. … For a long time, getting certain vaccinations has been a requirement in some jobs. This is no different. Throughout this pandemic we have followed the advice of the Chief Health Officer and the public health team, and the work those officials are doing is in the public interest. … We absolutely understand that this is a complex issue and a lot of people have strong opinions. But we are not going to let a tiny minority of anti-vaccination members put the rest of the workforce at risk. Nor will we be intimidated by neo-Nazis in construction cosplay turning up at our offices, trying to force their extreme views on our movement and undo the heroic work of Victorians who have kept this virus at bay for almost two years. We are interested in the genuine concerns of our members — and we want to hear them. We are not interested in conspiracies stirred up by neo-Nazis here and abroad. We listen to the thousands of frontline workers, public health experts and scientists who have experienced the impact of COVID and are charting our way out of it. Keeping union members healthy and safe at work will always be our priority.”

Giles Parkinson: “Prime minister Scott Morrison insisted on Thursday morning that the landmark nuclear submarine deal struck with US president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Boris Johnson won’t translate into a push for nuclear power plants in Australia. … On the issue of nuclear power plants, don’t believe him. Morrison could hardly have said anything else. It’s one thing to announce a switch to nuclear powered submarines without any broad social discussion, but quite another to commit the country to nuclear power. But the pro-nuclear lobby – both within and without the federal Coalition government — won’t be able to help themselves… [T]he argument is already being put that if Australia is happy to host nuclear power in a tin can under the sea, then why not in a land-based power plant. … What the conservatives really hate most is wind and solar, (and batteries and EVs and climate campaigners). Right now, they are doing their damnedest to slow down the rollout of these technologies, led by the veteran anti-wind campaigner Angus Taylor, who has appointed fossil fuel lobbyists to any number of key institutions, and is interfering in the re-write of market rules. The nuclear debate hasn’t peaked, it is only just starting, and is about to get very loud. The wind, solar and storage industry has a lot of work to do to counter the incoming torrents of misinformation.”

Gem Romuld, the director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons: “Important questions remain over construction of the submarines and the potential imposition of military nuclear reactors on Adelaide or other cities, making construction sites and host ports certain nuclear targets. Military nuclear reactors in Australia would present a clear nuclear weapons proliferation risk and become potential sites for nuclear accidents and radiological contamination long into the future. … We note that the PM has clearly stated that this move does not signal future consideration of nuclear weapons. But he must match this with action — Australia must sign and ratify the [Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] now — to not do so leaves the door open for a future stealthy slide towards nuclear weapons. The best way that the PM can assure Australians, the region and the world that he is serious about rejecting nuclear weapons is to pick up a pen today and sign the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”

(ICAN was founded in Australia and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work promoting the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The TPNW took effect in January, without Australia’s support.)

15 September 2021

Hugh Riminton on Christian Porter’s supposedly blind trust payment: “We know he perceives a potential apprehension of conflict because that’s what the parliamentary register is for. It only exists so that MPs can declare gifts and other financial arrangements that ‘may conflict, or may be seen to conflict, with (the parliamentarian’s) public duty’. … Porter claims, improbably or not, that he doesn’t know who gave him the money. For all the rampant speculation now running, the public doesn’t know either. But it surely has a right to. … If the money came from a high-net-worth individual, it is possible their source of wealth may have come from commercial interests that come under his very portfolio. What is to stop, once all this has died down, a well-heeled figure sidling up to the minister and revealing themselves as the benefactor? Perhaps offering the last four digits of the bank account to prove their bona fides. Then the quiet request for the quid pro quo. … This is so clearly fraught with possible peril, to the potential for undue influence or even blackmail, it is astonishing he didn’t just say no.”

Natalie Lang: “The average worker in the disability sector makes $725 a week. Over 40 per cent of the workforce are casual workers, meaning they do not receive any leave entitlements. So if you become a contact of a COVID case, and have to isolate for two weeks, that’s suddenly a material threat to your capacity to afford food, clothes, and shelter for your household. … So here we have a new situation in which some workers — low-paid, critical workers most of us consider heroes — have a relatively extreme statistical exposure to a new safety risk that will limit their earnings, purely by virtue of the nature of the work they perform. What should be done? Well, so far, the answer is to flick them a crumb of welfare. Last week the NSW government announced it would be expanding its $320 one-off ‘Isolate Support Payments’ to workers without leave who are forced to shelter at home. Even if you work in the disability sector $320 is a pretty far cry from what you expected to make at work for two weeks, or even one. Yet while the money is woefully inadequate, it’s also the structure that insults. If being exposed to COVID-19 and forced into isolation is a foreseeable event for a significant portion of a sector, that sector doesn’t need a welfare cheque — it needs a new industrial right. That’s why the government must now urgently move to enshrine isolation leave in our National Employment Standards. It is morally and ethically indefensible for a disability worker who’s been forced into isolation to forgo the income they were expecting for that period. It’s that simple.”

Cristy Clark: “It was reported recently that Coalition MPs have been calling for an expansion of the government’s school chaplaincy program in order to reduce the mental health impacts of climate change ‘activism and alarmism’ on children. Yes, that’s right, they want to address the mental health impact of activism, not the impact of the actual, visible effects of climate change itself, or the very real threat that it poses to children’s futures. Effectively, these Coalition MPs are implying that children’s overactive imaginations — spurred on by so-called ‘climate alarmists’ — are the cause of their anxieties. Liberal MP Andrew Wallace, for example, blamed groups like Extinction Rebellion for ‘robbing children of hope’. Do you know what robs children of hope? Spending an entire summer holiday stuck inside because the air outside is full of toxic smoke and the sky has disappeared. Or worse, evacuating from their home by boat as the local beach is engulfed in flames. Children, world over, are anxious about climate change for one extremely valid reason: it poses an existential threat to their future and governments are failing to take sufficient action. … The reality of the climate crisis is not a pleasant one, but it is both absurd and insulting to think that we can shield children and young people from this reality. They are already living with the effects. So rather than trying to manipulate them into denying their reality, our only viable option is to support them to take action.”

Roman Burtenshaw’s editorial in the latest Tribune: “Ever since … the 1970s and ’80s, the institutions which sustained the Left’s presence in work- ing-class communities have dwindled. With the absence of union branches came the demise of workers’ clubs, educational organisations, voluntary associations, newspapers, sports teams, and an entire architecture of community life which maintained our roots in the places and with the people whose interests were aligned to socialist politics. As this structure crumbled, another was built in its place: a great factory for turning highly-educated layers of society into politicians, advisors, consultants, academics, lobbyists, PR professionals, think-tankers, policy wonks, and a myriad of other functionaries. … The cause of socialism has always brought together working-class militants and bourgeois intellectuals, from Marx and Engels to Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci and even Tony Benn. As long as the labour movement was the driving force, these figures could put their theories to use advancing its aims. However, in the absence of an organised working-class, the middle classes take over — and socialism degenerates into linguistic obscurity and scholastic abstraction. Of course, this process has impacted the centre-left as much as socialists. In fact, it is realigning the entire political spectrum. Without the anchor of conflict between classes, politics is reduced to a cultural contestation among members of the ruling class — a choice between two parties which serve business interests; one socially liberal and one socially conservative. In these political blocs, workers will play a subordinate role on both sides. … [T]he only way to fight back against the drift of politics into a contest between elite worldviews is to rebuild class politics itself.”