10 January 2023

Danilo Campos: “I volunteer helping seniors with their technology issues. … This technology is non-negotiable, at this point, even for seniors. They need it to keep in touch with people, to participate in cultural and civic life. These companies are just contaminating the every day experience of using them with incompetently-built surveillance crapware. My client paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of using a machine that had been sabotaged by the greed and incompetence of its manufacturer, and they had no recourse at all. How are they supposed to figure this out? … It’s funny, working in the industry, how often you can smell some weasel’s little OKR [Objectives and Key Results] in the inexplicable frustrations of someone who just wants to use their laptop, phone, tablet… but they’re derailed by a popup, unnecessary login or other waste of time. These malignant incentives are an affliction amplified across the scale of any successful technology now. Maybe the most frustrating thing for me is how often I’m working with people who are apologetic and unsure because of these derailments. They think it’s their fault! They think they’re not capable of doing and learning on their own because they keep getting fucked with by this user-hostile crap at every turn.” The headline for this column sums it up: Junkware is Elder Abuse and a Menace to Society.

Michael Bradley: “Dutton makes Tony Abbott look subtle, so it isn’t difficult to pick up what he’s doing, or whose idea he’s copying. The play is an attempted repeat of John Howard’s successful three-card trick that brought down the 1999 republic referendum: 1) demand the detail; 2) when it’s provided, demand more detail; 3) claim there’s now too much detail and advocate a ‘No’ vote on the basis that, if you don’t understand it, you’re being conned. … Dutton will defend his perfectly reasonable queries all the way to referendum day, and point to any reticence about answering them as an indicator of something sneaky or even malign. … The proof of Dutton’s disingenuousness is in the detail of his supposedly open-handed approach. One of the details he demands will suffice: will the Voice body be empowered to make decisions? No, one million times, no. Nobody has ever said, suggested or implied that it will or should be anything more than advisory in construct and effect. It is a big lie, fully known to those who peddle it, to keep pretending otherwise. Dutton is propagating the lie. He has no intention of engaging sincerely with the Voice. He will, sooner or later, drop the mask and tell us to vote no. And we will know why.”

7 January 2023

Marcia Langton — who coauthored the official report to government about how the Voice should function — has little time for obfuscation by its opponents: “Now there is a new creed. Albanese’s alleged ‘refusal’ to provide details about the Voice proposal, so described by conservative constitutional lawyer … Greg Craven, has ‘doomed’ the referendum. Craven’s latest tack follows years of influencing constitutional reform for Indigenous Australians towards compromise and minimalism. … Former minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said he brought the reports I prepared with Calma to cabinet while in government and asked his former colleagues to consider them. He even offered those in parliament now the exact page numbers of the summary, to help them out. ‘What is obvious with the National Party,’ he said, ‘is they have not read the report and not given an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament an opportunity to be aired and listened to … There’s no excuse to say you do not know the detail. It’s laziness.’ The bleating about ‘detail’ is clearly a sign of laziness among the opposition parties, but there is another tactic at play. … Politicians and columnists and whatever Andrew Bolt is are working hard to ensure that by the time we get to the referendum most Australians will believe there is no detail. Their claims about the deleterious impact of the Voice on our great nation fail one by one as they become wilder and wilder, answered in detail by former High Court judge Kenneth Hayne and eminent lawyers including Mark Leibler and Anne Twomey. As Twomey says, all that is important at the referendum is to know the scope of the power being enshrined. This leaves the function in the hands of the parliament, with the oversight of democratic process. ‘It puts democracy, not the devil, in charge of the detail.’”

(Twomey’s patient rebuttal of some of the No campaign’s early furphies is also worth reading, as are Ken Hayne’s and Mark Liebler’s [$].)

5 January 2023

The Australia Institute’s Matt Grudnoff: ”In Australia, the previous three generations — the silent generation, the baby boomers and generation X – all voted left when they were young, on average. Now the silent generation and the boomers, on average, vote right and gen X voting habits don’t appear to have changed much over their lifetime. As they age, however, millennials appear to be going in entirely the opposite direction. Moving more to the left. … This is a big problem for the parties of the right as millennials make up an increasingly larger proportion of voters and it had an impact on the last federal election. According to data from the Australian Electoral Commission there are now four electorates where those under 40 make up more than 45% of the voters in the seat… As older generations die out, millennials will increasingly come to dominate a larger number of electorates. If they continue to vote left, this will be catastrophic for the Coalition. But why are millennials continuing to vote left as they age? There are probably three main reasons, and they are all linked to their economic wellbeing. … These three issues — insecure work, housing affordability and climate change — mean that millennials are sharing in less of the benefits of the economy and are less secure than previous generations. … The rising importance of millennials as a voting bloc is bringing a seismic shift in Australian politics. Political parties will need to stop just promising better jobs, more affordable housing and action on climate change, and instead actually deliver. Those parties that fail to do so face becoming irrelevant.”

4 January 2023

In the inaugural Iain McCalman Lecture, Frances Flanagan calls for a realignment of priorities with the needs of future generations front and centre: “From the streets full of schoolchildren on strike for the climate to the Green New Deal movement to the language of ‘circular economies’ starting to be heard in business and government, new modes of thinking about what human progress means are emerging and beginning to erupt into mainstream politics all over the world. And just as it is premature to give up on the possibility of a new social order, so too is it hasty to abandon the idea that work can be a political site from which to fight for the reform. For there is a crucial link between ‘sustainability’ and work that is perhaps very obvious but rarely made explicit: the process of ‘sustaining’ requires human labour. It means more than simply saying ‘no’ to damaging acts of consumption; it also means saying ‘yes’ to the human activities that are positively necessary for the repair, renewal and regeneration of our soils, our oceans, our cities, our critical human systems and our human bodies. … [L]ike any parent, I hope their little lines of personal progress rise, and that they find occupations that are useful and interesting and that nourish and nurture the people and places around them. But as every parent knows, I can’t do that for them. What I can do, and what all of us can do, is fight for a system that doesn’t press impossible dilemmas on their slim shoulders. It is within our power to reshape our present order of work in a way that does not insist that the next generation must choose between work that renews the world and work that is materially secure. We can, instead, fashion a system that offers them a stake in a deep and expansive environmental politics. One that isn’t just about what they do or don’t buy, but that yokes together their private lines of progress with that other great line that determines and marks our collective fate.”

31 December 2022

It’s time again to set some practical resolutions for the new year. First, the success of the Voice referendum — which will be held in the second half of 2023 — is essential. This is a constitutional reform that has been developed by First Nations people and they have achieved remarkable consensus that this is the step towards self-determination they want to take first. I resolve to make some active contribution to that cause every week. Second, I am going to attend more meetings. Years ago, I heard Marcia Langton talk about how she built her influence — she sums it up in the saying, “the world is run by those who show up”, but she spoke specifically about always participating in the meetings other people find tedious, and slowly but surely advancing her position. Meetings are a big part of my work time, so I am not often keen to sign up for more meetings in my own time, but I am going to step up my participation in the groups I have until now been a paper member. I hope you will consider doing the same.

29 December 2022

The Carmichael Centre’s Mark Dean and Lance Worrall argue for a standard 4-day working week: “The truth about productivity is that regardless of slow growth (which is not the fault of labour), there has been positive productivity growth that has outstripped real wage movements. Workers have not received a proportionate share of the productivity gains they have made. Almost all of it has gone to boosting the GDP profit share. Sharing the benefits through a shorter working week means rebalancing between the incidence of overwork and unpaid labour, and underemployment and too few hours. It also means recognising the need to compensate Australia’s workforce for its past contributions to productivity growth. … This fact of sustained, nearly-full capture of past productivity gains as rents by the corporate sector provides a part of the justification for statutory shorter hours. Together with the more equitable distribution of labour to address the two poles of exploitation — overwork and unpaid labour alongside underemployment, too few hours and acute insecurity — the case for shorter hours contributes to the argument for a larger full employment objective and framework. The case is further made by the fact that additional to the benefits of shorter hours to individuals and the social fabric, a shorter working week is often associated with higher productivity… We conclude strongly that shorter standard work weeks, and a corresponding redistribution of working hours (including longer and more stable hours for people in underemployed and insecure work positions), will generate improved work-life balance, stronger social stability, and improved environmental performance — without undermining productivity and material incomes.”

Coles, publicly: “Supermarket giant Coles is calling for enforceable, uniform housing standards for seasonal farm workers and rules against unfairly docking their pay to prevent overseas labourers from living in poverty and squalor and to shore up supply chains in an industry wracked by reputational damage. In a lift for the government’s war on labour-hire firms, Coles and major unions released a report on Friday taking aim at the horticulture sector’s heavy reliance on outsourcing workers. It attributes labour-hire firms with a decline in transparency and certainty in the industry, and links them to poor pay and lodging.”

Coles, privately [$]: “Coles, one of the nation’s largest supermarkets, is privately urging suppliers to cut costs rather than request price rises as it deals with a surge in demands to raise the price of products on shelves. In new correspondence with suppliers obtained by The Australian, the company says every business should ‘turn its mind’ to reducing costs… Coles has told its suppliers it will also reserve the right to negotiate price rise requests — or block them completely — if the supermarket feared a higher shelf price would have a negative effect on shoppers or cause a slide in sales. ‘All businesses will incur impacts to the cost of doing business at some point,’ a note sent to suppliers reads. ‘Every business needs to turn its mind to how it can remove costs from its operations. … Even where you can substantiate increases to cost of doing business including rising cost of inputs, Coles may not accept your request for a cost increase in full or at all.'”

It’s hard to see how any serious commitment to eradicating exploitation and modern slavery from the supply chain could be achieved by squeezing suppliers even harder, and refusing to allow them to pass on the increased costs of proper pay and adequate lodging. (Perhaps as a show of good faith they could sack Jeff Kennett, the “independent” arbiter Coles pays to resolve disputes with suppliers — who is hiding his work from the government’s Food and Grocery Code reviewer.)

28 December 2022

Labor is planning to implement a ‘same job, same pay’ system that would require companies who use labour hire to ensure the outsourced jobs are on pay and conditions equivalent to directly hired employees — a fundamental principle of fairness in the workplace, and one that was significantly undermined by Labor’s introduction of enterprise bargaining in the early 1990s. I’m fascinated by the contortions employers are going through to complain about the proposal [$]. First, they trot out Mark Wooden to argue that “labour hire workers usually receive a wage premium” — in which case, what are they worried about? Next, the IR extremists at Qantas and BHP: “In the case of cabin crew Qantas uses four different companies providing four different rates of pay to meet seasonal peaks. Qantas general counsel Andrew Finch has cautioned that ‘same job, same pay’ regulation could increase costs for the company if it made labour hire untenable. … BHP also set up its own in-house labour hire firms to operate its coal mines in 2019.” Note, these aren’t even really outsourced workers — the companies are using tricky corporate structures to artificially split up their workforces to slash pay and conditions. Next, veteran mining industry troglodyte Steve Knott just throws around “Marx-inspired” and “ridiculous”. But then the big one: “An enterprise agreement could simplify some of these issues with standard rates and classifications but firms point out that most workplaces don’t have such agreements.” Well then they should sit down and negotiate such agreements! Problem solved.

27 December 2022

Ben Schneiders, in his book, Hard Labour: “This book… seeks to provide some of the finer-grained detail of how inequality has increased, and how power relations have evolved between those with and those without wealth and power. Since 2015, in my role as an investigative reporter at The Age, I’ve written hundreds of articles about wage theft… Over the years, I’ve received significant pushback over my wage-theft reporting — far more than I’ve received from any of my other work, which has ranged from exposing religious abuses to political corruption. … I’ve pushed ahead, as wage theft — to me, at least — is offensive to the idea of a fair society, breachign laws and norms about how people should be treated. It is an assault on the idea of equality, which is a fundamental requirement of a well-functioning democracy. Left unsaid in all this pushback is the assumption that those with money and connections have a right to steal, unlike those with nothing, who can be jailed for smaller thefts. … However, … change is always possible, and there can be a future for a fairer, more democratic system. The solutions are there before us, at first in small steps and then later in bigger ones.”

Hard Labour is a thorough, detailed, and accessible read. Everyone interested in equality — why it has collapsed, and what needs to be done to restore it — should grab a copy. You can read an excerpt in The Age.