24 August 2021

Tim Dunlop: “There is a good case to be made, in fact, that Morrison has tied the idea of opening up with his re-election strategy, playing on our exhaustion with lockdowns and other restrictions to conjure a light at the end of tunnel that he will deliver with fudged figures on overall vaccinations rates. Under this scenario, an adult vaccination rate of around 70% will be held up as a threshold, restrictions will be eased, and in that moment of sunshine, an election will be called. If he wins, he wins, mission accomplished. If he loses, Labor will be left to clean up the mess. Cynical? Not even a little bit. Let us never forget that what has driven us into the mess we are currently in is not incompetence by the Morrison Government, but actual decisions they have made to handle things the way they have, aided and abetted by the NSW Government in particular. It wasn’t an accident vaccination rates were so slow, it was decision. It wasn’t an accident that financial support for those affected was cut when it was and not reintroduced, it was decision. It wasn’t an accident that Morrison held up NSW as the gold standard and tipped a bucket on Victoria while we dealt with that second wave, it was decision. It wasn’t an accident that Morrison praised Berejiklian for not locking down at the start of the current Delta outbreak, it was a decision. At every point, Morrison (and Berejiklian) have made bad decisions, and the idea that their ideas about opening up might prevail is terrifying.” Tim argues that we should be opening up carefully and gradually — and not with election day as a deadline.

7 August 2021

ACOSS’s Cassandra Goldie: “We now have both major parties supporting the slashing of income tax, which overwhelmingly will benefit higher-income earners and especially men. We are in the extraordinary position of the Coalition promising a policy they never really believed they would be in government to deliver — and the Labor Party deciding to support it, too. The dog has caught the car, twice. The price we will all pay for these tax cuts is staggering. … The OECD ranks Australia sixth-lowest in our spending on social benefits and the ninth-lowest in our overall tax base, collecting less tax revenue than most of the 37 other OECD nations. This lack of investment in our social benefits is the key reason we have a persistently high proportion of our community living in poverty, including more than 40 per cent of children in single-parent families, and more than three million people overall. The Intergenerational Report makes it clear: if we do not stop cutting taxes and do not start talking about raising revenue fairly, we will continue to have older people neglected, people with disability waiting for support, parents unable to get childcare, children going hungry, and millions going without the basics, sleeping in cars or living with the lights turned off. We are also hampering our ability to invest in the jobs-rich industries of the future, including new technologies and renewable energies. As the wealthiest country in the world, we need to collect more in the interest of doing better. We have shown what we are capable of doing in a crisis. We now need to show what we are capable of doing for the longer haul.”

4 August 2021

Labour hire companies doing what labour hire companies are designed to do [$]: ”Railtrain Group had a contract to supply about 50 train crew to Roy Hill through a subsidiary, TRRC. After Roy Hill indicated it would offer Railtrain a new four-year contract provided there was an enterprise agreement in place for the life of the contract, Railtrain created an entity, Karijini, and employed two staff to make a new enterprise agreement. The duo, who were on probation and still in training, voted up the new agreement, the TRRC workers were transferred to Karijini, and a new contract was reached with Roy Hill. A FWC full bench found Railtrain’s strategy was designed to avoid having to negotiate a new agreement with the TRRC workforce and their likely bargaining representative, the CFMEU.“ This kind of corporate shell game is par for the course these days — but this time, the company screwed up by telling the two hand-picked newbies that they would be covered by the rail industry award. In reality, the contract undercut the mining award that the workforce was actually covered by. As a consequence, the FWC found the company had “engaged in an exercise of corporate manipulation”: “We find that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the agreement of those two employees did not constitute properly informed consent, and lacked the moral authority required for genuine agreement.” But the loophole that allows more careful companies to pull this stunt needs to be closed.

An excellent move, about twenty years too late: “Anyone can now make a free call, or an SMS, from a Telstra payphone, to a standard fixed line or to an Australian mobile… Telstra expects to forgo about $5 million annually, from about 11 million calls. RMIT University associate dean of marketing Con Stavros said this was a relatively small amount for the telecommunications giant to give up in return for a potentially large public relations benefit. Telstra chief executive Andy Penn said the decision to allow free calls was made to help people. He said payphones could be a vital lifeline ‘especially for those vulnerable, including the homeless, people who are isolated or someone escaping an unsafe situation. That’s why I have taken this decision to make national calls from payphones free, because they play such a critical role in our community, particularly in times of need and for those in need.’ Mr Penn said with family violence cases, ‘it’s not always easy for people in these situations to use a home phone or their mobile to get help, so I hope making payphone calls free might play a small part in helping them get the assistance they need’.” (The value of payphones as billboards is worth a lot more to Telstra than the cost of the free calls.)

28 July 2021

Allison Pennington: “Public health restrictions are … undermined if not coupled with a program of liveable income supports that allow people to stay safe — and keep others safe — by staying home. Intensive policing to enforce stay-at-home rules doesn’t work when people feel compelled to work because they have no other way to support themselves. In this regard, the uneven and inadequate patchwork of income supports provided through the federal government’s disaster payment program is not up to the task. For example, the federal government excluded anyone receiving welfare payments from receiving Covid disaster supports. But excluding our lowest-income most vulnerable communities from these supports isn’t just cruel. It also jeopardises public health. Many people receiving welfare payments also earn paid work income. … But they will not be compensated for losses in income resulting from the new lockdowns. Indeed, an estimated 400,000 unemployed or part-time workers across greater Sydney don’t qualify for Covid supports, purely because they receive another form of payment. These desperate people face continued compulsion to work, expanding the pool of desperate workers seeking precarious, dangerous cash-in-hand and gig work. We have already seen how this story ends: with WhatsApp security guards, pizza delivery drivers, and interstate removalists. With this arbitrary and dangerous policy choice, the federal government reveals its political priorities: to appear ‘tough on dole-bludgers’, and focus on deficit reduction even amid a pandemic. … The federal government can choose to do this right. Or it can choose to keep sending cruel ideological signals. All Australians hope it does the former.”

According to a London School of Economics study of tax rates in 18 OECD countries from 1965 to 2015: “We find that major tax cuts for the rich push up income inequality, as measured by the top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The size of the effect is substantial: on average, each major tax cut results in a rise of 0.8 percentage points in top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The effect holds in both the short and medium term. Turning our attention to economic performance, we find no significant effects of major tax cuts for the rich. More specifically, the trajectories of real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate are unaffected by significant reductions in taxes on the rich in both the short and medium term.” Labor now supports greater inequality for no economic benefit.

Jeff Sparrow: “The desultory vaccine rollout in Australia proves that, as an administrator, Scott Morrison makes a good curry. Yet even without his government’s remarkable ineptitude, the emergence of the Delta variant was, in a sense, inevitable. Viruses mutate — that’s their whole point. Even if we control Delta, new diseases will emerge, either different strains of Covid or, God help us, entirely new viruses. … We might not know the exact cause of this particular outbreak but we’ve been repeatedly warned that ongoing deforestation and uncontrolled urbanism create the conditions for the spread of pathogens to which we have no resistance. Covid-19 only kills a small proportion of those it infects — and still the global death toll from the pandemic stands at more than 4 million. What happens if the next virus we release is more like Ebola, with a morbidity rate of over 60%? To put it another way, renewed normality isn’t the solution — it’s the problem. … There is, after all, a term for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results — and that insanity doesn’t merely pertain to Covid. … In the words of a leaked draft from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: ‘The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own.’ That’s why, even in lockdown doldrums, we need to rekindle a belief in the possibilities for change. Covid has shown that people can adapt. None of us thought that we’d become accustomed to wearing masks, to teleconferencing and to working from home. We put up with lockdown; we altered the way we lived — because that was what the times required. We know we can change. We’ve shown it.”

Greg Jericho: “The Labor party seems to have decided to shrink its policies to the very few things it believes are politically advantageous as it looks to the next election. In doing so it has thrown its support behind the most inequitable tax cuts in Australia’s history, effectively putting an end to progressive taxation in this country. Oh, the things you do when you want to win so badly that you have forgotten why exactly you want to win so badly. This week the ALP announced … it would now support the legislated stage three-tax cuts to come into force in 2024-25. … [T]he decision to support the stage-three tax cuts means the ALP now believes increasing inequality is a price it must pay if it wants to win government. What is the point of a progressive party if not to reduce inequality, you might ask. To be honest, at this point I don’t know. Essentially the stage-three tax cuts are about flattening the income tax rate to 30% for everyone earning between $45,000 and $200,000. Some eight years ago … I wrote of the superannuation debate at the time that it was clear to me that what it was really about was bringing in a flat income tax. What had once been the policy of libertarian cranks was then starting to be accepted in the Liberal party. And that battle was won on Monday with the ALP’s not untypical capitulation”.

27 July 2021

Matt Huber: ”Instead of expecting climate mobilization to emerge from knowledge or experience of climate change, we should seek to orient climate action around the everyday material realities of the working class — the vast majority of society. Such an approach could build something the climate movement still lacks: a majoritarian political coalition with the power to confront fossil capital. While more and more surely are experiencing climate disasters, for most working people the primary obstacle to survival is the daily struggle to afford the basics of life like food, electricity, rent, and health care. … A working-class strategy would mobilize climate action on a decidedly positive platform of improving most people’s lives. And it is not as if these material needs are ‘distractions’ from the climate crisis. Food, housing, energy, and transport are the key sectors we need to decarbonize. … The Green New Deal represents a breakthrough in this respect — offering a climate program around public housing, a job guarantee, and, most recently, public power to, ‘establish electricity as a basic human right and public good.’ Still, for this strategy to work, you have to deliver these material gains in the name of climate action.”

21 July 2021

Melissa Coade, reporting for the public service industry magazine, The Mandarin: “On Tuesday CPSU national president Alistair Waters told a senate inquiry into the current capability of the APS that decisions made by Services Australia to silence concerns raised by public servants about the bungled robodebt scheme, and replace them with labor hire staff to do the work, saw the automated debt-collecting program executed in spite of warnings from experienced bureaucrats. ‘Of the almost 1,600 labour hire workers engaged in Services Australia at the end of April, around 800 work in the payments and integrity group, raising debts,’ Waters told the senate committee. ‘This labour hire workforce was introduced when robodebt was being implemented. Permanent staff who then worked in the robodebt area objected to the lawfulness of the program and were moved to other duties. An insecure workforce of about 800 labour hire employees were then brought in by Services Australia to implement robodebt.’ In June this year the Federal Court approved a $1.8 billion settlement for hundreds of thousands of Centrelink recipients who were wrongfully issued with debt notices. Justice Bernard Murphy outlined in a scathing decision against the Commonwealth that it ‘should have been obvious’ to public servants and ministers running the scheme that the process for determining debts was flawed.” It’s not obvious to people who have no institutional knowledge or understanding. Content-free managers were the first wave of neoliberal attack on public service. Content-free (and job security-free) employees are the next wave.