archive: December 2021

7 December 2021

Solidarity with NSW public school teachers, who have been forced to strike because the NSW government is intent on imposing a real wage cut, which will only exacerbate a teacher shortage. Dan Hogan: “Public school teachers and principals in New South Wales are striking [today] over the government’s failure to address spiraling shortages, stagnant wages, and unsustainable workloads. All options have been exhausted in negotiations with the NSW Department of Education. We have no other choice but to strike. … It is no secret to staff, students and parents connected to public schools that the state education system is built on the unpaid overtime of teachers. The Department’s decade-long austerity project has driven teachers out of the profession en masse, acted as a deterrent to ward off new talent and created a teacher shortage. Not only has its modus operandi of making teachers work more for less wages (or no wages at all) degraded the working conditions of teachers — it has also overseen a decline in positive education outcomes for students. The Department is yet to acknowledge the direct link between the working conditions of teachers and learning outcomes for students. … Gaining higher wages through industrial action would see the abolition of the government’s 2.5 per cent wages cap, which would be a huge benefit to all public sector workers whose pay and conditions are presently trapped under the cap. … The struggle has been developing since the 2011 imposition of the wages cap. Again, it does not take an overpaid bureaucrat to work out there is a direct link between ten years of declining learning outcomes and a decade of austerity measures. The wages cap has locked in a material decline in teacher wages.”

(This neoliberal approach to public sector salaries is not limited to Liberal governments. The Victorian Labor government uses an even tighter wage cap to avoid real negotiations with its employees over their pay — and in fact is going to further tighten the cap from 2% to just 1.5% next month.)

Bernard Keane [$]: “Consider the extent of wage theft: The remarkable diversity of organisations involved: large retail employers Bunnings, Target, Super Retail Group, 7-Eleven, Subway and Ampol; the Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Westpac, the ABC, Monash, Melbourne, UNSW and Sydney universities; prominent law firms, prominent restaurateurs; Crown, a host of smaller retailers, NGO Red Cross, Optus, IBM, Telstra, Regis Healthcare, the Australian Sports Commission; The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced last week it had started legal action against Coles, claiming it had underpaid 7500 employees a total of $115 million between January 2017 and March 2020; that follows the FWO taking Woolworths to court in June over its $390 million (including interest) underpayment of staff; the Finance Sector Union today revealed it will launch a major court action against NAB in relation to wage underpayment and unpaid overtime… Nearly 90% of job ads in foreign languages specified below-award rates of pay, according to a Unions NSW survey… The steadily mounting evidence shows that Australia’s economic history of the last decade must be re-evaluated: wage theft has not been an incidental, occasional feature of the industrial relations system, but a key, intentional characteristic of Australian industrial relations that has had a significant positive impact on corporate profitability and significant negative impact on household income, directly through lower wages and indirectly through pressure on wage growth. … [A]ny economic policy or analysis that fails to recognise wage theft is a design feature of the Australian economy is wilfully blind.”

1 December 2021

Prof Megan Davis: “It is rather odd that in Australia, unlike the rest of the world, there is a naive belief that truth comes before justice, truth comes before a treaty, and justice will follow the truth. … One of the sources of disgruntlement and frustration is how rarely the justice requirements − what does repair look like? − follow the truth-telling, and how little changes in power relations. … [Consider] the discomfort of many First Nations people following the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as allies ran off on truthy jaunts with truthy projects, well ahead of the mob. Before the Uluru statement, the language of truth and truth-telling barely featured in the nation’s narrative. After it, truth-telling is exigent, yet entirely detached from the political ask. Take note of those who are spruiking truth without constitutional voice. Notice who is not advocating for political power and structural reform. … The pithy tagline for the Uluru Statement from the Heart — ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth’ — in some ways invited this. It gives the false impression that change is an à la carte menu and one can simply pick what suits, even though these three proposals are connected, meaningful and not interchangeable. The reform is Voice: Makarrata. … Allies tend to cast aside the justice components of the Aboriginal struggle because they don’t want to be political — they want to be safe. … The idea that truth automatically will lead to justice is fraught. It is illusory. It is an ahistorical belief that is simply not borne out by the evidence. It defies the demands we have made as Aboriginal people for rigorous evidence-based thinking and public policy in Indigenous affairs. Beware the ally spruiking truth.”

The Human Rights Law Centre has produced a report outlining the systematic repression of climate activism in Australia, through the “introduction of harsh and at times unconstitutional, anti-protest laws targeting climate defenders… enforcement of punitive bail conditions and excessive penalties for minor protest related offences… [s]tifling civil society by defunding climate education and threatening to deregister charities that engage in climate activism” and “[t]argeting activists with litigation, and surveilling and infiltrating climate defender groups”. They note: “In the face of governments’ inertia, climate activism has been vital in helping persuade big business to change their ways: Equinor, BP, Santos and Chevron have abandoned risky oil drilling plans in the Great Australian Bight, Australia’s four major banks have agreed to exit the thermal coal sector on or before 2035, and Australian corporations including Coca Cola Amatil, Bunnings Warehouse and Officeworks have committed to sourcing 100 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Global Warning calls for urgent and immediate reform to stop the attack on climate defenders, including by establishing a federal integrity commission, capping political donations, and strengthening legal protections for activists by introducing an Australian Charter of Human Rights.” Read the full report.

Benjamin Clark: “Australia used to tackle intergenerational inequality via state and federal estate taxes. They once accounted for around 10% of state government tax revenue. But relentless campaigning by farmers and small businesses saw Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland government axe theirs. The other states followed in fear of a retiree exodus, filling the revenue hole with pokie machines. Fraser joined in by abolishing the federal tax in 1979. It’s often claimed we can’t bring them back, or make bequests subject to capital gains tax, because it would be political suicide. … What imperilled Australia’s previous estate taxes was perceived low thresholds and the ease with which families with good accountants could dodge them. They also often applied to one’s spouse, handing opponents the potent political weapon of grieving widows. Targeting very wealthy households only, encompassing large gifts before death, and exempting spouses would help neutralise these lines of attack. The Australia Institute’s 2016 proposal is a sensible one — they’d exempt everything up to $2 million, tax fortunes between $2-10 million at 20%, and above $10 million at 30%, which would generate approximately $5 billion revenue per year. Advancing such a proposal would be an uphill battle against entrenched interests. But it’s past time we tried to bring ‘death taxes’ back from the grave.” Doing it at the federal level would also help avoid a race to the bottom.