14 April 2021

Excellent essay by Agatha Court: “On 6 November 2019, two Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) inspectors arrived at a multi-million dollar [Lendlease] construction site in Melbourne. Given the complex processes involved in building a project such as this, the presence of a government regulatory agency is not surprising; work health and safety standards, building quality, structural soundness, and wage theft are ongoing issues within the industry, and compliance checks would be expected. Yet the two inspectors were not there for those reasons. Rather, ‘the purpose of the visit was to identify and take photographs of any union mottos, logos or indicia observed on the cranes, walls of the walkway and the walls of the lunch rooms as a continuation of an audit to assess compliance with the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (the Code).’ … Enforcement of the Code has led to the dismissal of workers who have refused to remove stickers from their helmets. In 2016, construction company Laing O’Rourke sacked three union members and gave written warnings to 130 others for refusing to comply with a direction to remove their stickers. Laing O’Rourke undertook this action at the direction of the ABCC following a Fair Work Building Commission audit of the site that found ‘serious breaches’ — meaning workers wearing sticker-covered hard hats. … The Code and the ABCC are extreme, even within the neoliberal legal landscape of Australia. They are examples of the increasingly tightening grip on dissent that characterises the deeply illiberal heart of the neoliberal system and the use of institutions to erase spaces, real and imaginary, that present any alternative to it.”

Further evidence that Joel Fitzgibbon is a dangerous fool: “Coal and the future of mining will be a key issue in the byelection, with the Upper Hunter home to the highest number of coal jobs in the state [NSW]. … However, polling conducted over the weekend for think tank the Australia Institute revealed voters in the marginal seat are not opposed to a moratorium on new coal mines. … The Australia Institute commissioned polling in the electorate, with 686 people asked about their voting intentions and their thoughts on pausing new coal developments. Voters were asked specifically whether they supported Mr Turnbull’s call for a moratorium on new mines but allowing existing ones to continue to operate under their present approvals. The polling showed that more than 57 per cent of voters supported or strongly supported Mr Turnbull’s comments and more than 54 per cent of Nationals’ voters also backed his position. Almost 70 per cent of Labor voters supported a moratorium”.

7 April 2021

Janine Perrett: “It’s probably best that Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest took delivery of his new $100 million private jet last week given the global post-COVID push for higher tax rates on everyone from corporates to the super wealthy. … [T]he billions [Forrest and Gina Rinehart] are raking in on the current iron ore boom … [have] prompted calls for a revival of that original mining tax from the 2010 Henry tax review. Last month the Greens released a paper claiming the RSPT would have raised an extra $34.6 billion. The paper also proposed a 6% ‘wealth tax’ on billionaires like Twiggy, Gina and Clive Palmer to combat inequality. But this time their proposals are not quite so extreme, given a worldwide push for governments to raise taxes to overcome the giant deficits left by the coronavirus economic shock. Last weekend even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) appeared to be channelling Greens policy with a report suggesting taxes on ‘excess’ profits such as the ill-fated mining resource rent tax. … The push for higher taxes for the top end of town is gaining speed around the world. In early March, Boris Johnson’s conservative government hiked corporate taxes from 19% to 25% to pay for COVID, reversing a previous policy to bring them down to 17%. The Biden administration has already been warning it will raise taxes on businesses and the wealthy to fund its ambitious $3 trillion infrastructure spend. … Meanwhile across the Tasman, the NZ government announced major tax changes last week which included increasing the top tax rate for the country’s highest earners to 39%. … Can’t wait to see how brave our lot will be in the budget to be announced five weeks from today.”

Michael Pascoe: “It takes a particular kind of gutlessness for the federal government to push for no real increase in wages without being game to say it. That’s what the 109-page government submission to the Fair Work Commission boils down to — nudge nudge, wink wink, let’s have another stuff-all minimum wage increase that also impacts a couple of million workers on awards. … For all the uncertain economic theory and graphs and charts and (often somewhat old) statistics in the submission, the key sentence, the money shot, is printed early: ‘Given the current uncertainties in the domestic and international economic outlook, the government therefore urges the panel to take a cautious approach, taking into account the importance of creating jobs for Australians and ensuring the viability of the businesses, particularly small businesses, which provide the jobs which are crucial to the economic recovery and the wellbeing of Australian families.’ As sure as neoliberals preach trickle-down economics, the government is re-running the discredited simplistic version of the wages v jobs story. That’s the same story the FWC bought when it reduced penalty rates. That was supposed to increase employment. It did not. … [The submission] continues the Treasurer’s habit of selectively quoting the Reserve Bank, reaching back three years for a favourite line that can be bent to its purpose[, but ignoring the RBA’s] more recent stressing of the vital importance of boosting wages growth to something north of 3 per cent if the economy is to be able to get back to something like normal.”

31 March 2021

Scott Morrison announced that Marise Payne would be his new Prime Minister for Women, overseeing a new team of women ministers with gendered portfolio titles — before immediately trying to walk it back as people wondered whether he saw himself as only a Prime Minister for Men. As Tanya Plibersek put it, “What a nonsense proposition that we have a government that is half for men and half for women.” Other appointments don’t inspire confidence, either. The Assistant Minister for Women, Amanda Stoker, was immediately slammed by Australian of the Year Grace Tame as “someone who previously endorsed a ‘fake rape crisis’ tour, aimed at falsifying instances of sexual abuse on school and university campuses across Australia. It goes without saying that this came at an immeasurable cost to already traumatised student survivors. … The new Assistant Minister also supported last year’s Australia Day Honour of a woman [Bettina Arndt] who gave a platform to the convicted paedophile who abused me.” In her first interview in her new role, Jane Hume declared, “I don’t think you can appropriately put a gender lens on the budget” — despite her portfolio of Women’s Economic Security seeming to require putting a gender lens on the budget. Perhaps this promotion was based on her performance as minister for superannuation, where she tried to force women to spend their retirement savings to escape family violence. Michaelia Cash is the new Attorney-General and Minister for IR, even though she refused to cooperate with a police investigation into her office’s abuse of power and, to avoid tough questions about it, threatened, “I am happy to name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office about which rumours in this place abound. If you want to go down this path today I. Will. Do it.” What a charmer.

24 March 2021

Prof Anne Twomey: “The sports rorts affair was quickly followed by another controversy: the funding of the Safer Communities Program. … These two programs don’t even scratch the surface of the massive government expenditure on discretionary programs with unimaginative (but suitably vague) titles such as … ‘building better regions’. Both sides of politics, when in government, use these programs to favour their supporters and influence voters, particularly in marginal seats, with scant regard to public need, fairness or responsible expenditure. Every time another government rort is exposed, the response is always that the action was ‘entirely within the rules’. But what actually are ‘the rules’ and does anyone ever enforce them? … While legal proceedings can be brought to challenge the constitutional validity of the grants or the validity of the decisions under administrative law, it is generally not in the interests of those who could bring such proceedings to do so. All aggrieved grant applicants want the opportunity to get a grant in the future. Ultimately, this means ministers can breach the rules and get away with it, undermining the rule of law and public confidence in governments. … [T]he rules cannot, in practice, be enforced against them, because they do their best to make sure this is the case.” (In the article, Twomey explains how each of the different “rules” systems fails.)

Rob Harris: “[T]here are now more statues of kelpies than Indigenous Australians or Australian women in the green spaces surrounding the nation’s seat of power. … Within Canberra’s parliamentary triangle you can spot Sir Robert Menzies strolling along the north side of Lake Burley Griffin and former Labor prime ministers, John Curtin and Ben Chifley, in conversation as they walk from the Hotel Kurrajong towards Old Parliament House. … [Liberal Senator Nola] Marino thinks Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons — as the first two women elected to federal parliament — are befitting of the same recognition. … Why there is no statue recreating the iconic picture of Lyons and Tangney walking through the doors of Parliament in 1943 is a stunning oversight. This August marks 50 years since Neville Bonner became the first Indigenous Australian to take his place in Parliament. If recognition is not to be continually kicked down the road a statue of Bonner outside Old Parliament House would be a good start. Then when that’s done they can set their sights on Eddie Mabo, and maybe even his wife Bonita, a short walk away at the High Court. Perhaps near the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet there’s also room for Charles Perkins, the civil rights activist who became the first Aboriginal Australian to become a permanent head of a federal government department.”

Osmond Chiu: “Australia likes to see itself as punching above its weight as a middle power, but this boast does not hold true when it comes to the representation of cultural diversity in politics. … The 2018 Leading for Change report from the Australian Human Rights Commission showed that only 4% of federal MPs had non-European ancestry, compared to 19% of the Australian population. The underrepresentation … [is] particularly stark for Asian Australians. … An estimated 14.7% of Australian adults today are of Asian heritage, similar to the proportion of African-Americans in the US population. New Zealand and Canada have about the same percentage of the population with Asian ancestry, but in terms of political representation, Australia does far worse than other English-speaking Western democracies. More than 5% of New Zealand parliamentarians have Asian heritage, as do 12.8% of Canadian MPs and 3.8% of members of the US Congress. … The image that Australia wants to project – of being the most successful multicultural country in the world – is shattered by a simple look at Australia’s parliament. There is a cognitive dissonance in championing a diverse, multicultural population and at the same time maintaining extremely unrepresentative corridors of power.”

17 March 2021

The WA Liberals have been all but obliterated: “The current final outcome prediction is 52 Labor, three Liberals and four Nationals.” It’s a first for women: “WA’s Lower House will end up with more female MPs elected in 2021 than the total number of Liberal women, 25, to have ever [ever!] sat in the WA Parliament. There may also end up being more Lower House MPs named Lisa than Liberal party members.” And a first for the upper house: “At this stage, it looks like the extraordinary support for Labor will translate into an upper house majority for the first time for Labor. It is worth noting that Liberal-National governments in WA have regularly controlled both houses of parliament while in government.” The reason it has taken a record landslide for Labor to have the chance of narrowly winning the upper house is that WA’s electoral system is rigged with rural malapportionment: “the three-quarters of the WA population who live in the Perth area elect 18 MLCs, while the one quarter outside Perth elect the same number of MLCs. This malapportionment means that the Legislative Council is significantly biased towards the ‘right’ (Liberal Party, Nationals and small parties like Family First and the Shooters) and against the ‘left’ (Labor and the Greens).” Perhaps McGowan will take the opportunity to make WA a democratic state.

Peter Brent: “Howard’s reign can be neatly sliced in two. The first half, 1996 to 2001, was mostly characterised by a curious torpor, electoral disappointment and low-to-mediocre approval ratings. … But the 2001 election win — post-Tampa, post–September 11 — transformed all that. … Having come back from the dead, he now stood for something all right: political success. And that which was seen as his Achilles heel, an obvious discomfort with modern, multicultural Australia, was now seen as the very secret of that success. After asylum seekers were falsely accused of throwing their children off a boat in October 2001, he was finally in his element, declaring, ‘I don’t want people of that type coming into this country.’ … Out and proud, then vindicated by the election result, he never looked back. … So what is Howard’s legacy, apart from his own ludicrously overblown political reputation? During his prime ministership he would frequently opine… that one of his proudest achievements was that Australians now felt freer to discuss uncomfortable topics — by which, of course, he meant matters of race. (Since leaving office, this point has generally been absent from his retrospective boasting.) … Howard didn’t make Australians racist, but he did make casual racism respectable again… It remains enmeshed in our political sphere, precisely because it is believed to be good politics. … That is John Howard’s chief legacy, and it’s not one to be proud of.”